Le50 2017 – Maxwel Cornet
Year in and year out, French football sees the rise of a bevy of talented young attackers, but such was the remarkable ascent of Ousmane Dembélé two seasons ago that the success of others went, at that time, somewhat unnoticed. Monaco’s trio of Kylian Mbappé, Thomas Lemar and Bernardo Silva have emerged from the shadows to a greater degree in the season that recently concluded, but, Lyon’s Maxwel Cornet remains an under-recognized talent. A consistent presence in France’s various youth sides, Cornet has improved as he has risen up the ranks, and his arrival from Metz in January 2015 for a mere €200,000 seems an almost unfathomable bargain at this point. Cornet had been unsettled with Les Grenats at the time, but the faith shown in the winger by Bruno Genesio last season considerably burnished the manager’s reputation for improving young talent.
This season, with Mathieu Valbuena finding form and Nabil Fekir back from a long-term injury, things have been a bit more trying for Cornet, who projects as the quintessential modern forward. He is most comfortable on the left wing, but has more often played on the right this season, providing a pacy counterpoint to Valbuena. He has also, on occasion, played as part of a striker partnership, as he is a bit wiry to be used on his own centrally for now. Still developing as a crosser of the ball, Cornet instead relies on pace and instinctive finishing to make his mark. A good dribbler with a proclivity for cutting inside, Cornet is an intriguing prospect, but also has more work to do as regards his defensive work ethic and crossing ability if he is going to become a regular for an elite club.
It should be offered as a caveat, though, that while Cornet may have regressed slightly this season, much of that can be attributed to playing in a variety of systems: last year Lyon played solely in a 4-3-3, which offered Cornet a great amount of freedom. This season, the club has managed long-term absences to Nabil Fekir, Alexandre Lacazette and Mathieu Valbuena, and they have been forced into tactical variation as a result. Lacking consistency in terms of a system or a role, Cornet has struggled along with many of his teammates to find any sort of attacking rhythm, even though there could be the odd performance which showed their collective abilities, such as the home win over Roma or their demolition of AZ Alkmaar.
While it is true that Cornet has yet to make his mark as a centre forward, building his upper body strength and cultivating a better eye for linking play will serve him well in that regard. Indeed, there are many who view him as Alexandre Lacazette’s long term replacement: Lyon’s leading scorer had yet to find the back of the net in the league at Cornet’s current age, so more development should be forthcoming. In concert with that idea, Cornet’s goal-scoring record is impressive enough to suggest that there may be something to this; one would do well to remember as well that, positionally, Lacazette himself wasn’t played centrally for the first part of his career, only becoming an out-and-out striker after the departures of Bafetimbi Gomis and Lisandro Lopez.
Competition for places in the first team at Lyon is tough, and it would be foolhardy to think that Cornet being an automatic starter is a likelihood, especially if Rachid Ghezzal does stay or the club do make one of the high-profile signings with whom they have been associated. He should continue to get regular playing time through rotation and cup matches; improving upon last year’s assist and goal totals (3 and 10 in all competitions) is a realistic objective, as is becoming a starter for the U21s, where he will face fierce competition from Jean-Kevin Augustin and Moussa Dembéle. If he can succeed in both of these aims, his progression is well poised to continue.