A mere three weeks into the year and 2020 might already have seen the arrival of a footballing superstar. In under a month, Lyon attacker Rayan Cherki has gone out of viral sensation into a realistic solution for head coach Rudi Garcia at the first group of one of France’s best clubs.
And like so many of the ones that have gone before him, he’s a local lad whose celebrity is rapidly ascending. Garcia encouraged Cherki into the first-team squad following the teenage sensation was persistently and controversially overlooked by short-lived predecessor Sylvinho before Christmas and, since then, he’s caught the eye with his daring and exciting brand of soccer.
It was the type of audacity and composure he had shown again and again in childhood matches, just now he had been doing so from the first group. But, Karim Mekeddem, the home side’s coach, wasn’t especially impressed by Cherki’s 15-minute cameo.
“I am upset with OL’s arrogance during the past quarter of an hour,” he grumbled, having bee especially upset with what he saw as disrespectful showmanship from Lyon’s homegrown hero, whose confidence on the ball left the more seasoned players over a tiny red-faced.
A fortnight afterward, Cherki hit the headlines once more in the cup, this time after playing an instrumental role in leading Lyon through into the last 16 with a breathtaking performance in the previous 32 against Nantes.
His night began perfectly as he picked up what seemed to be a mishit Moussa Dembele shot before demonstrating coolness beyond his years to round the goalkeeper and slot into an empty net.
It was considerable evidence that, despite his young age, he’s more than capable of residing in the professional world, and this time it won him plaudits for his mentality.
“I do not want to downplay what he did on his stats since we are going to commend to the heavens,” Garcia admitted from the wake.
“He must listen and work again since he is still not arrived. He is off the mark but I have to say he was smart in his decisions and made a solid defensive effort. If he continues like this, he’ll continue to advance.”
However, the road hasn’t been without its bumps for a young man who proceeds to demonstrate a stereotypical teenage attitude occasionally.
Only a week before, he was frustrated by being left on the bench against Bordeaux at Ligue 1 and asked to play for the youth group the next day.
But while he thrived against Bourg’s first group, he flopped against their kids in what was described by observers as one of his worst performances at a Lyon shirt.
If the participant’s attitude wasn’t exemplary, Lyon’s board have been reassured by the affirmation he has loved ones who won’t let him get carried away with his newfound fame.
“He’s polite and attentive. You are not like that without an excellent entourage.
“All of us keep telling him that he is going to have the career he deserves if he continues to work. The threat is to make him believe that he’s already among the best players on the planet.”
The media hype, however, is constructing, fuelled by praise on social websites from Kylian Mbappe, who has himself broken a complete sequence of documents during his flourishing career.
“Don’t talk too much about age,” that the PSG celebrity told his followers, having been impressed with Cherki’s performance against Nantes.
Luckily, Lyon’s employees are well utilised to successfully handling such hype.
“Gerard Houllier had this with Steven Gerrard, who he began in 17 years old,” Garcia continued, referencing the former Liverpool boss, who’s now an adviser in the club.
I had the same with Eden Hazard in Lille. You need to watch, see how the player acts and be cautious.”
There’s set to be a clamour, but for Lyon’s new wonderkid to be thrust frequently into the spotlight, especially with key offensive catalysts Memphis Depay and Jeff Reine-Adelaide injured.
Resisting will be difficult for Garcia, especially in light of Cherki’s stellar showing against Nantes, but handling him judiciously will be crucial in ensuring that he reaches his potential, which is already being talked about at the Mbappe bracket.
If Ben Arfa is the participant that Cherki is often likened to, the adolescent could well examine the career trajectory of this 32-year-old, who must still be light up one of Europe’s top leagues.
Rather, he remains a free agent, having departed Rennes last summer after a fantastic year in Brittany that came following a devastating spell in Paris Saint-Germain.
Ben Arfa’s career options and attitude failed to match his gift and he is going to be forgotten but if you captured a tantalising glimpse of what could have been.
It’s a narrative that Cherki should notice. He might have the tools to make it to the top, but as Garcia was keen to worry, this is a prodigious talent who has made a positive start to his career.