Le50 2016: Corentin Tolisso – Olympique Lyonnais
The gesture was strangely familiar. After volleying a late equaliser for Lyon against Marseille, Corentin Tolisso immediately turned to the Lyon fans, one hand on his heart/badge, the other raised in apology for his derby-losing error the previous week. Tolisso had done likewise last year, after scoring against Reims, again a week after a poor showing in the derby. But this time, it felt a lot more cathartic.
2015/16 has been a classic case of second season syndrome for Lyon, with Tolisso epitomising his club’s highs and lows, this season and last. After bursting onto the scene late in the 2013/14 season, famously heading a 94th minute match-winner against Bordeaux and going on to start the Coupe de la Ligue final, Tolisso became a mainstay of the Lyon team last term. Only a week after his 20th birthday, he began the first match of the season at left back due to Lyon’s injury problems. He went on to be an ever-present, starting all but one match.
Ending the campaign with seven goals and three assists, he was a crucial part of the Lyon team that ended runners-up to PSG, showing his flexibility by filling in when needed in defence, playing as the holding midfielder or in his preferred role of central midfielder. Here he was able to highlight his range of skills, both on the defensive side with his tackling ability, upper-body strength and positional awareness (which makes up for a slight lack of speed), and in the offensive half, gliding forward to support the attack, demonstrating an impressive array of short- and especially long-range passes, able to shoot from distance and to use his height to advantage at set-pieces.
France Under-21 recognition followed – he has gone on to captain the team on several occasions – and he was rewarded last summer with a contract extension and pay rise and a change of shirt number from 24 to Juninho’s number 8.
Everything seemed in place for Tolisso to progress and perhaps even make a late run for a Euro 2016 place, but this season has been tough. As Lyon struggled in the first half of the campaign, so did Tolisso, and he even bore the brunt of much of the criticism. Some seemed harsh – after all, until a recent injury, Tolisso played 64 straight Ligue 1 games – starting 62 of them. Still only 21 and unable to play consistently in one position (this year he has added right back to his repertoire) a drop in form and some tiredness is inevitable. However, Tolisso was also painted by many as one of the main causes of the changing room tension that affected the team’s form. Reports of mocking Claudio Beauvue and fighting with Lindsay Rose suggested that Tolisso’s attitude had changed for the worse.
Tolisso has denied all rumours and his on-pitch behaviour has remained exemplary – only five career bookings is impressive for one so young playing in combative positions. And with a new year, a new coach and a new stadium, Tolisso’s form has transformed along with Lyon’s. That Marseille match – for which he was dropped to the bench for the first time this season – was the turning point. Until then he had one goal and two assists; that match saw him begin a run of three goals and three assists in five games, earning him Lyon’s player of the month award for February.
An injury stopped him in his tracks and he is now fighting for one of two midfield spots with Jordan Ferri and Sergi Darder. But this year’s steep learning curve could be the making of Tolisso. His ability has never been in doubt and his versatility means that he could aspire to become an upgrade to Moussa Sissoko as the jack of all trades of the France squad, if not make one of les Bleus’ midfield slots his own. If he can continue to focus on his football, he has the potential to become a mainstay for club and country for years to come.