Le50 2016: Maxwel Cornet – Olympique Lyonnais
In any regular season, Maxwel Cornet would likely have been hailed as the next big thing. The Lyon attacker, though, has been pushed firmly into the shade by Ousmane Dembele, despite a breakthrough campaign that has seen the 19-year-old become increasingly influential on the banks of the Rhone.
Cornet’s explosion comes as little surprise. He bubbled away quietly last term, having drawn headlines when he fell out with formative club Metz, with whom he had turned professional aged just 16, and was frozen out of their plans as he refused to extend his contract with them. Lyon pounced, securing his services for a bargain €200,000, plus future incentives.
Only a couple of weeks after signing for OL in January 2015, he made his debut against the Moselle outfit, where he had signed up as an seven-year-old in 2003. Symbolically, he replaced Alexandre Lacazette, as it may well prove that he is the centre forward’s long-term replacement in Bruno Genesio’s side.
Under the guidance of previous coach Hubert Fournier, Cornet’s impact on Lyon’s first team was peripheral. He was given fleeting appearances from the bench, yet what he showed was often teasing. On his debut, for example, he stood out due to his self-confidence, willingness to dribble and searing pace.
Initially the results were mixed, though broadly encouraging, but the Champions League match in Valencia last December proved a turning point. Amidst a brutal injury situation, Cornet, who loved playing football so much when he was young that he would simply forget to eat his lunch, was given the confidence of Fournier to feature in what was a dead rubber for Lyon.
It was just a second start of the season for the teenager, yet he profited fully from it by scoring a wonderful solo goal and invigorating a Lyon side that had been positively frustrating due to their pallor throughout the competition.
Fournier may since have departed, but that match provided the platform for erstwhile assistant Genesio to offer Cornet, by that time a France Under-21 international despite having been born in the Ivory Coast, a prominent role at last.
Versatile enough to play anywhere across a front three, the attacker has proven capable of being effective in any of these roles, often interchanging with Rachid Ghezzal, who has been every bit as good as the man four years his junior.
Speaking to 20Minutes in March, Cornet’s U19 coach with France, Patrick Gonfalone, highlighted some of his talents:
“Maxwel was not playing for Metz, yet he shone each time he played for us,” he explained. “He didn’t only have tremendous strength of character, but he had great pace to compensate for his lack of match time.
“Where [Ousmane] Dembele is very fast and can dodge tackles, Maxwel is more powerful. He’s strong enough to not budge, even if he’s touched when he’s running.
“Left footers are generally ‘ultra left’. That he can use both feet is a sign of a young man who was obliged to use both feet very early to break into the first team. It’s an advantage because he can move freely along the whole of the attack.”
If one concern over Cornet remains, it is that he is not quite proficient enough in front of goal, and it is a deficiency that he has confessed to himself:
“I want to score more goals, because they are the only statistics we accept. I want to reach double figures,” the teenager told Le Republicain Lorrain. “I’ve spoken to [Bernard] Lacombe and he’s given me some advice, so I’d like to thank him for that.”
Away from the field, Cornet likes to profit from the gastronomy that Lyon is famous for, and takes tips from team-mate Christophe Jallet as to where to find the best restaurants.
He may remain discreet for now, thanks in no small part to Dembele, but he is a player set to dine at the top table of French football.