Yoann Gourcuff: A French Football Fan On Everything Arsenal Needs To Know On The Gifted Playmaker
At last, dear readers, I can introduce you to a player you already know quite a lot about. Yoann Gourcuff is a player English fans should have vague memories of from a few years back, when he was in a Milan shirt or playing in the Champions League for Bordeaux and Lyon at a time where their presence was noticeable.
Dubbed “The Next Zidane”, he was tagged as the future of French football, the best active midfielder, and great expectations were loaded onto his shoulders. A few years later, he is now unwanted at his club and is far from an international call up. Nonetheless, on a few occasions, he has proved that his abilities have not disappeared. What went wrong?
Let’s rewind the tape of his career to the beginning of this century. Yoann Gourcuff, aged 14, is joining the Rennes youth system where his father, Christian, coaches the elite team. At this time already, his skills garnered interest from a few big guns including Arsenal and Liverpool. Back then, Gourcuff chose to complete his apprenticeship in Brittany. This period was concluded with a winning free kick in the 2003 Gambardella Cup final (equivalent to the FA Youth Cup) and a first professional contract signed.
The two following campaigns, some of the best seasons in Rennes history, would confirm his potential. By this time, there were numerous suitors for the young number 10, but in 2006 he chose to join Italy’s Serie A and AC Milan (ahead of Arsenal, Paris St. Germain and Lyon amongst others). In Italy, despite being obvious to most, his skills did not get many chances to show themselves. He could not find his place in a very dense midfield composed of confirmed stars like Kaka, Seedorf, Pirlo and Gattuso. The highlight of this was his absence from the 2007 Champions League final team sheet. The arrival of Ronaldinho to the Rosseneri would make things even worse for Gourcuff. He subsequently asked to be sent on loan with a buying option to Bordeaux. The request was dully accepted.
This first setback in his career did not seem to bother him as he rose again to the top level during his first season back on the Ligue 1 fields, so much so that he took home the 2008-2009 Ligue 1 player of the season and a league winners trophy. His second year there was plagued by injuries, but he managed to be back in shape for the South African World Cup.
There, despite being offered the keys to the French attacking section by Raymond Domenech, he disappointed many (as the rest of the squad did). In his recent book the then national coach, who offered him his debut for Les Bleus, describes Gourcuff as a very talented player who was unable to take responsibilities in front of the tough young class who took the lead within the French camp. Domenech expressed his disappointment when he couldn’t realise that most of the attacking players resented him or when he did not stand up against the strike movement. To top things off, he got sent off 20 minutes into the third and last game of the tournament.
The events in South Africa would leave a deep scars. Since his move to Lyon in 2010, it has been a true roller-coaster ride for Yoann, including some remarkable performances for both Lyon and the national team as well as a series of injuries keeping him off the pitch. One of the latest to his knee in August 2012 saw him arguing with the Lyon staff when he claimed he would like to do his rehabilitation alone, outside the club’s physio room. He got back on his feet in a record time, to the amazement of his personal physio and the club’s medical staff.
Today, his performances are still checkered; he doesn’t seem to be a part of the new young player-centric approach. In an attempt to reduce their wage bill, they recently offered Yoann Gourcuff to a few Premier League clubs, any many have reacted positively according to Lyon’s chairman Jean-Michel Aulas.
His most likely destination seems to be Arsenal. Arsene Wenger is obviously a long time fan of him. “The Professor” would surely know how to handle a player often considered too clever for his own good. With a manager able to boost his confidence, we would see an immediate positive turn in Gourcuff’s performances, especially as the Premier League seems to be in the need of creative players like him.
In a nutshell, Yoann Gourcuff is a troubled but very gifted player who just needs a new challenge and a manager’s trust to get back to the top level he reached a few years back. After all, he is only 26 and has plenty of happy footballing years ahead of him.