Clement Grenier to Roma : From Lyon to i Lupi
As far as farewell goals go, Clément Grenier’s strike against Bourg-en-Bresse Péronnas is as distant and lowkey as you’ll find. Set against the backdrop of the French national team’s Euro 2016 campaign, the one-time international stepped up in a friendly match to caress a trademark free kick into the opponent’s net leaving the poor goalkeeper rooted to the spot.
The contrast was so stark it could have well been taken from an arthouse film, highlighting the grand futility of his effort. If only there was a French equivalent of the expression, “c’est la vie.”
In a perfect world Grenier would be playing regularly for both his hometown club and country, stroking in exquisite free kicks the world over. However this elegant performer’s career has been blighted by an injury run of Gourcuff-esque proportions, and if he is to find redemption on the pitch it will be in the Eternal City wearing the red of Roma.
In truth the writing on the wall was written as far back as last April when Olympique Lyonnais owner Jean-Michel Aulas declared that the youth team graduate was available for transfer – “We will place him on the transfer list. Not to make money, but because it is an opportunity for him to regain momentum. At the moment, he is not in a good place.”
When Aulas makes his mind up he rarely turns back and the only real surprise is that it has taken this long to offload Grenier.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way for the supremely gifted and stylish playmaker. Making his senior debut against Toulouse in 2009 Grenier possessed all the hallmarks of a talented conductor. He dictated the flow of games, set-up teammates with inventive passes and chipped in with his fair share of goals too.
Indeed he appeared to be maturing into the finished article and looked at home in the French top flight, enjoying productive returns in the 2012/13 and 2013/14 seasons, earning himself a call-up to the French national team to cap it all off.
He was hot property with the likes of Real Madrid and Arsenal circling with intent. If Real needed a demonstration of Grenier’s quality they received a first-hand look in a friendly at the Stade de Gerland in 2013. Grenier scored an impossibly exquisite goal against Los Merengues, displaying a mesmerising mix of awareness, technique and sublime execution.
He really should have gone on to better things but fortune decided to deal Grenier a rotten hand. The OL academy product was struck down with a series of injuries that derailed his career to such an extent that Aulas saw no other option than to move the player on.
A groin injury put paid to his 2014 World Cup prospects and saw him miss most of the 2014/15 campaign when he re-injured the same muscle in a Europa League play-off match against Astra Giurgiu.
Despite his injury nightmare OL were prepared to stand by their man, handing him a new deal in 2015 securing his future with the Rhône-Alpes club till 2018. Even with this vote of confidence Grenier continued to suffer on the injury front. In a pre-season friendly against Arsenal he tore a tendon in his left thigh, ruling him out for the opening four months of the 2015/16 season.
His absence was felt as Lyon stuttered in the opening half of the campaign and by the time he returned in late November the fate of head coach Hubert Fournier was practically sealed.
The malaise continued under Bruno Génésio with Grenier’s last truly meaningful contribution coming against Toulouse in April 2016. It gave Aulas practically no choice but to seek to move the playmaker on.
As departures go everything appears to be amicable with all parties accepting that a fresh start is needed. Given his injury record and lack of playing time, a move to Roma is a good proposition for Grenier all things considered. Aulas, for his part, has been unusually generous in agreeing to send the OL number 7 on loan to the Giallorossi and allowing the Italian club to purchase the playmaker for a fee of just €3.5million.
From a footballing perspective there’s too much ground for Grenier to make up to remain at Lyon. In midfield the likes of Maxime Gonalons, Jordan Ferri, Corentin Tolisso and Sergi Darder are all comfortably ahead of him. Upfront, positions are at even more of a premium given that Alexandre Lacazette, Nabil Fekir, the newly acquired Memphis Depay and the resurgent Mathieu Valbuena are the preferred go-to options.
Even for someone as gifted as Grenier, displacing all that talent to make himself a permanent fixture is a tall order, especially bearing in mind his injury troubles. He is a conductor without an orchestra, a showman without a stage, an ace without a sleeve.
Speaking to Ligue1.com, Grenier admitted that he needs games. “I’m hungry to play. I want to play a lot of matches and be useful to the team. I miss all of that,” he said. “If I can’t do that at Lyon, then I’ll have to look elsewhere. I’m ready to do that – to take on a new challenge and get involved in a solid project.”
Hopefully, he will rediscover his form and find a worthy project at Roma because the class is undoubtedly there. It would be a crying shame for the game to lose his talents to the twin despairs of injury and inconsistency.
His departure, however, will mark a sad end to his career at Lyon given the immense promise he displayed. His story seemed destined to be one of adulation and adoration at OL but fate had other ideas.
To paraphrase a Marc Owen lyric; Clément’s time, it was never meant to be this way…
You can follow Thariq Amir on Twitter @LeFalseNumber12