Maxime Gonalons: Why Arsenal Need To Sign The Classy Frenchman Before A Rival Does
In the first decade of the twenty-first century, Olympique Lyonnais established itself as the pre-eminent French club and a feared opponent in European competition. French champions in every year from 2001 to 2008, the club has lost its way of late. They have only won one French Cup since their last title and in recent seasons have struggled to secure Champions League football.
This season, though, has seen a return to form. Significantly, media coverage moved from Lyon to Paris and with it went the pressure on the squad. For the first time in ages, Lyon was no more than an outsider at the start of the campaign. They have coped better with lower expectations and go into the tail end of the season the only club standing between Paris SG and the title.
This performance may be seen as the result of a combination of cash saving policy and a re-born youth academy. The best example of this may be Arsenal target Maxime Gonalons’ quick progression from debutant to leader.
Two years before Gonalons’ birth in 1989, Lyon appointed Jean-Michel Aulas as president. Under his strong management, they quickly climbed the steps separating Ligues 2 and 1 and went on to dominate. Gonalons joined OL aged ten and has been a prized asset ever since, making his debut in 2009 and becoming captain in January 2013.
It has not all been easy. On the verge of signing his first professional contract aged nineteen, he suffered blood poisoning which left him facing the loss of a leg. He recovered slowly but surely and during the 2009-2010 season was integrated to the first team.
He made his first start in the Champions League preliminary round tie against Belgian side Anderlecht and went on to make twenty-seven appearances during his first season at the top level. Twenty-eight followed in his second and due to the quality of his performances he was called up to the French under-twenty-one squad.
The summer of 2011 saw a change in Lyon’s ideas. Aulas understood that the club could not afford the high wage bill it had built up and maintained for years. Remi Garde, then a coach at the club, was appointed manager. His task was to get Lyon back to the summit while reducing running costs. The obvious solution was to give opportunities to many young players from the club’s academy. Gonalons was set up as the leader of a new generation and became an automatic starter for the following campaign.
From there his performances only improved, attracting attention from across the continent. Real Madrid and Napoli were among his keenest followers but he proved his loyalty by agreeing to a contract extension linking him to the club till 2016. Around the same time, he was called up to the French national team by Laurent Blanc for two autumn friendly internationals. During the home tie against the United States played on November 11, he made his debut for Les Bleus, coming on as a substitute for Yann M’Vila.
In April 2012 he made his one-hundredth appearance for Lyon aged twenty-two, and a week later lifted his first trophy, the French Cup. Following such a successful season, he was extremely unlucky to miss out on a place in Laurent Blanc’s squad for Euro 2012. His rise to prominence could not be stopped, however. 2012-13’s Trophée des Champions, played in New York against Montpellier, saw Gonalons take the captain’s armband for the first time and he has since been a regular call-up to the national side.
Technically, Gonalons is not an exceptional player. However, his cleverness is the key. Fantastically intelligent, he is already a brilliant holding midfielder. On top of a physical capacity to run from box to box for ninety minutes, a player playing his position should always be capable of analysing the situation in a split second and take the good decision, whether it is with a view to regaining possession or to start attacks.
Positioning, anticipation and a panoramic view of the football field are these qualities and are without a doubt they are Maxime Gonalons’ key strengths. In that regard, he is the player Arsenal have been missing for years: the pivotal defensive midfielder on whom the side can depend.
For all of this, Gonalons will be on the radar of not only Arsenal but many other top European clubs this summer. If it was not for super Gareth Bale, Lyon would have eliminated Tottenham from the Europa League in their recent tie, during which Gonalons proved to everybody he was capable of running the game at the top level of football. If Arsène Wenger is serious about his interest, he will have to act fast.