This summer will be a busy one for Nabil Fekir. The creative midfielder, 24, has been named in Didier Deschamps’ France squad with the World Cup campaign looming. Les Bleus have an immensely talented squad. They’re expected to go deep into the competition.
Fabinho’s swift £39m switch to Champions League runners-up Liverpool was confirmed on Monday, roughly around the time that Fekir himself was featuring for France during their 2-0 friendly win over the Republic of Ireland.
The Brazilian, who has prior experience playing against the Lyon man in Ligue 1, went on to say that he’d welcome him with open arms on Merseyside if he were to join too. The Reds have been heavily linked with his signature, amid whispers Jurgen Klopp is prepared to pay huge amounts to secure his services before the World Cup starts later this month.
“He is a very good player, of international level. In Ligue 1, it is not only this season that he has demonstrated things. It’s been a few years since he demonstrates his quality – if he comes, it will be good too.” Fabinho said.
Fekir’s undeniable qualities were not always enough to justify such high demand, but he has since taken steps to develop his overall game. With 18 goals and seven assists, he equalled his best ever tally in terms of goal contributions (25) in a Ligue 1 campaign this past season – doing so having played 400 minutes and four matches less than when he previously achieved it in 2014/15.
That feat came just months after sustaining a serious ligament injury which threatened to ruin his potential, but there was self-belief that he was good enough and just needed time to prove that.
Being the versatile and equally exciting attacker he is, Fekir worked wonders with the likes of Corentin Tolisso, Maxime Gonalons and Alexandre Lacazette to combine midfield with attack and create chances aplenty. Add centre-back Samuel Umtiti into the mix and you had a promising young core at Lyon, most were playing every week and developing while doing so.
It’s important I mention their names in particular because since then, they have all left France for greener pastures across Europe. Tolisso became Bayern’s club-record signing last summer, Lacazette did the same at Arsenal, Barcelona spent £22m on Umtiti and Champions League semi-finalists Roma managed a shrewd deal to sign Gonalons for £3m as he only had a year left on his existing deal.
After last summer’s exodus, Fekir was then made captain by Bruno Génésio – a bold move on the Lyon boss’ part but one which also reiterated the level of trust he had in his capabilities. If there were some raised eyebrows then, Nabil has done well to justify the manager’s faith since, embracing the captain’s role and responsibilities which come with it.
He led from the front with excellent performances throughout the campaign and if not for a knee injury which sidelined him for two months, there’s no reason why he could not have won the Ligue 1 Player of the Year award ahead of Neymar this term.
His progression is not solely based on attacking statistics, either. He has made a collective effort to help support team-mates by defending more regularly when out of possession; evidenced by his level of improvement in these areas.
With 29 tackles won, six interceptions and five clearances, Fekir is unafraid of the defensive responsibilities that come with the territory too. That is something that often goes unnoticed in attackers, but the workrate of players like Roberto Firmino has magnified the importance of hard-workers across the pitch, not just in traditional positions.
From 79 shots taken in Ligue 1 this past season, he netted 17 goals while boasting a career-high 68% shot accuracy. 80 successful take-ons (75% success rate) with an average of 3.08 per game is also the highest since he turned professional in 2013.
So, what’s next?
Fekir has made 116 Ligue 1 appearances and just over 150 for Lyon since making his professional debut five years ago. Had he not suffered a few lengthy injuries along the way, he would have attracted this level of attention sooner.
He turns 25 in mid-July and after earning more international caps, will be hoping that he’s on holiday somewhere celebrating France’s second World Cup triumph. After all, he only returned to Deschamps’ attention following their Euro 2016 final heartbreak.
Eden Hazard found himself in a similar situation with regards to Ligue 1 experience before joining Chelsea in 2012. There’s always a point where players feel like a change of scenery will prove beneficial for their career. Having watched all his team-mates prosper before him, this is Fekir’s time to shine.