Rachid Ghezzal – Standing At A Crossroad

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Following the career of Rachid Ghezzal feels similar to watching a mystery filled with plot twists. Just when you think the story has finally settled there’s a sudden, sharp deviation that puts one’s mind in a spin; so much so that a sense of distrust builds whenever normality peeps its head over the parapet.

Ghezzal’s career at Olympique Lyonnais has been a series of peaks and valleys with the 24-year-old, currently in an odd state of purgatory with his club and its fans. He made his debut in the 2012/13 campaign under Rémi Garde and impressed before injury robbed him of the opportunity to build on his start.

Then came Hubert Fournier, who initially used the Algerian (18 times in total including six starts) in Lyon’s unlikely title challenge in 2014/15 before limiting Ghezzal’s game time to 11 substitute appearances the following season. Stories circulated that Fournier was ready to offload the Algerian international but fortunately for the player it was the head coach who was shown the door first after a wretched opening half to the 2015/16 campaign.

This left the OL Academy graduate under the wing of Bruno Génésio and the transformation couldn’t have been more pronounced. The 2015 model of Ghezzal, the perennial substitute, was succeeded in 2016 by a creative goalscorer who made 16 starts in 18 games under Génésio netting seven times and setting up a further five.

By the end of the 2015/16 season Ghezzal and Lyon couldn’t have asked more of each other. The forward was finally fulfilling his undoubted potential thanks to Génésio with the club benefitting from the Algerian international’s good run of form. Everything should have been set up for Ghezzal to build on the work he put in and take the 2016/17 season by the metaphorical scruff of its neck.

Football though is never simple and the inevitable plot twist reared its head when it came time for Ghezzal to renegotiate his contract with Olympique Lyonnais. Instead of a quick, swift resolution the player and club found themselves poles apart.

On the face of it, it is a bold gamble undertaken by Ghezzal considering that he’s 24, no spring chicken in football years, and only really produced half a season’s worth of consistent performances. Naturally, Jean-Michel Aulas, who is a tough negotiator at the best of times, didn’t see fit to bend over backwards to secure Ghezzal’s future.

So began a rather odd estrangement. Ghezzal was initially frozen out of the first team picture, returning to league action four games into the season against Bordeaux and even then that opportunity was only afforded to him as a result of an injury crisis.

Despite the stand-off the atmosphere between player and club has not been as acrimonious as it could be. Bruno Génésio, perhaps pragmatically, has treated the Algerian international with a degree of sympathy whilst even Aulas initially found time to say a kind word or two about Ghezzal despite the contract situation.

Olympique Lyonnais’ faithful, have been less forgiving given the Algerian’s reluctance to put pen to paper, especially considering that his form has not reached the heights of the second half of last season. All told it has been a pretty lacklustre campaign thus far though things have been picking up for him in recent weeks, scoring and assisting in the 3-1 win against Monaco whilst setting up the winner for Mathieu Valbuena against Rennes.

A cursory look at Ghezzal’s WhoScored ratings this season doesn’t exactly reveal a player who’s setting the league alight with his performance against Monaco being the outstanding exception. Granted match ratings are a rather crude yardstick to measure performances so perhaps what’s more instructive is the fact that of the 19 games he has played Ghezzal has only completed the full 90 on four separate occasions, the last of which being in the beginning of November against Juventus in the Champions League; indeed he’s only played seven times beyond the 70th minute.

Ghezzal, for what it’s worth, has reestablished himself as a first team player but he’s not quite reached the indispensable bracket yet.

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The question is how can Ghezzal concentrate on his football when there are so many question marks about his future?  He’s been linked with a move to a number of Premier League clubs in the January window as well as Atlético Madrid; rumours have done the rounds that he will sign an extension at OL whilst he’s also free to run down his current deal.

With the first half of the season over the détente between Ghezzal and the club can’t surely last without some movement towards a resolution. Now is the ideal time to take stock and for each party to figure out what they really want. It is a conundrum because Ghezzal still retains the faith of Bruno Génésio despite not tearing it up on the pitch, yet the club aren’t quite ready to yield fully from their position with respect to contract negotiations.

Ghezzal’s predicament is that the longer the stand-off continues the more limited his options could become. There’s certainly interest for his services but clubs aren’t exactly knocking the door down to sign up the Algerian. Conversely, he could pen a new deal at Lyon but bridges would have to be mended first before any sort of acceptable deal could be put on the table. In other words Ghezzal may be forced to ‘settle’ rather than have his pick though no one is going to be feeling too sorry for him if he does end up at Atlético Madrid, Spurs or the other top flight clubs he has been linked to.

Leaving the hypotheticals aside the reality is that Ghezzal will once again find himself playing catch-up at the turn of the year with the added pressure of sorting out his contractual situation. For the sake of fulfilling his undoubted potential Ghezzal needs to make a decision and for the correct reasons too.

By all means the Algerian is well within his rights, if not obliged, to seek out the best deal possible but what are his parameters? Does he simply want to move to the biggest club possible? Perhaps the one with the most attractive financial package or the one that guarantees him playing time?

What he can’t afford to do is find himself in positions where he has to keep rebuilding his career.

In essence the Lyon forward is at a crossroad in his career and he’ll need to choose a path soon yet wisely in order to concentrate on what he’s good at: football.

You can follow Thariq Amir on Twitter @LeFalseNumber12

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