Eight Kids-a-playing: Maxime Gonalons
If you can imagine Lyon as the Christmas sleigh (stay with me on this), you have the likes of Yoann Gourcuff, Clement Grenier and Bafetimbi Gomis as the reindeer, erratic but for the steady leadership and direction given to them by their leader, good old Father Christmas! Step forward Santa Gonalons!
Maxime Gonalons, the captain of Les Gones, has recently more than ever had to show maturity and calmness beyond his 24 years as Lyon struggle through a period of change. Let’s start at the beginning.
Gonalons has been with Lyon for over 14 years now and since making his professional debut back in 2009 has grown to become one of their most reliable players in the period following their dominance in France. It all very nearly went wrong for a young Gonalons when, aged 19 and following an ankle injury, he contracted sepsis which almost lead to the amputation of his leg.
His ability to be both the classic defensive midfielder providing protection for back line, but also to combine that with lung-busting box-to-box runs meant he quickly become an automatic starter for Lyon, and since early 2013 has been captain of his beloved hometown club.
Since making his debut, Gonalons has gone on to make over 150 appearances in League and Cups and has been Remi Garde’s most selected player. He has become a figurehead for the stability so desperately required at a once-great club, currently experiencing a period of transition. While there have been rumours of staff and players falling out behind the scenes, sometimes spilling over into the national media, Gonalons has remained a consistent leader on and off the pitch.
Gonalons will never be a midfielder who will score buckets of goals; his real skills lie in his intelligence and ability to assess situations almost instantly. He can read the run of an opposing attacker and track back to intercept the through ball just as well as he can push forward and provide that killer pass to set up a goal. His seemingly non-stop energy levels which allow the ability to run box to box for a full 90 minutes remind you of a player such as Patrick Vieira. He also shares that tough, competitive streak which means he is unafraid to make a tackle and put his body on the line.
All of this is not to say he doesn’t score goals at all, as his 6’1″ frame means he is a threat at set pieces. A large number of his goals have come from runs across the box to head home a free kick or corner. With the likes of Gourcuff, Grenier and Malbranque at the club to deliver quality set pieces, his threat will continue.
It’s also worth remembering he was the last Lyon caption to lift silverware as he skippered the side which won the Trophee des Champions in 2012. He was also part of the team which won the Coupe de France earlier in the year.
He received his first call up to the French national team in 2011. Unfortunately for Gonalons, his emergence coincided with that of Blaise Matuidi and latterly Paul Pogba, leading to a total of only 6 caps for the Lyon man. He has been part of the national squad on numerous occasions and will remain as a “probable” for the World Cup squad at the end of the season.
His performances over the last couple of years has led Gonalons to be linked with a number of Europe’s leading clubs from Arsenal to Napoli, the latter being a highly possible move as rumours of recent meetings with senior staff at the Italian club refuse to go away.
Whatever happens, Gonalons will be a cracking gift for any team, but for now though the people of Lyon hope their “Pere Noel” remains with them!