Le50 2016: Yassine Benzia – Lille OSC
Yassine Benzia has been talked about for so long as the next great striker in waiting that it is easy to forget how young he still is. Whilst he has yet to hit the heights that his formative years promised, he has now finally made the well-advised move away from the home comforts of Lyon, to some success.
Lille snapped up the young forward in summer 2015 for a relatively reasonable €1m after he became frustrated with perceptions that he felt were being thrust upon him. Speaking to L’Equipe he said “the coaches did not see me as an intelligent player, they quickly stuck a label on me. Even when the coach changed, they had already given me that label.”
In terms of achieving the consistent game time he was so severely lacking at Lyon, the move has been a success. He swiftly became a starter under then-Lille coach Herve Renard and there were more steady glimpses that it would be a move to kick-start Benzia’s career after a couple of flat years with Lyon. However a spell of four goals in four games across November and December has probably been as good as it’s got for the player, as both goals and starting roles have stalled, in part due to the arrival of the in-form Eder in the January transfer window. Since that burst of goals, Benzia has found the net only once.
Benzia is very much the archetypal confidence player. When things are going well, he is without doubt a dangerous forward. He will take up excellent positions, he possesses the ability to take players on and as was seen with his goal against Saint-Etienne, is capable of world class finishing; in that instance it was a Marco van Basten-esque strike from a tight wide position. He has most often been used as a pure number nine where he can look to pounce on the opportunities that the likes of Sofiane Boufal can serve him up. Whilst not necessarily the quickest of centre forwards it is his positioning and movement in the box that can give him the edge over defenders.
On the flip side though, when the chips are down he will often disappear in a game, give the impression of sulking and appear uninterested in turning things around – characteristics that are familiar in so many young French players from similar generations. Tracking back is not his forte, further giving reason to play him as a classic nine. He could do with toughening up a little too as, without blistering pace, the more athletic defenders can find him a little easy to fend off the ball.
In the long term, a coach like Frederic Antonetti will probably do Benzia some good. His no nonsense approach should, if Benzia really wants to make it, get the best out of the player. Certainly Benzia’s best form coincided with the arrival of Antonetti. Now the player needs to show desire and maturity as he copes with a newer arrival who has for the moment taken his place.
After an incredibly prolific time with the French youth sides, Benzia eventually opted to represent Algeria at senior national level. A wise move that will allow him to see international football on a regular basis. At club level, if he can knuckle down and concentrate on performing to the best of his best abilities at a consistent level then we may yet see the player we all hoped he would be when he was breaking goalscoring records in Lyon’s academy sides. But for now the feeling is that this could be approaching the last chance for him to show that that is possible.