Le50 2017 – Olivier Kemen

Kemen GFCA

To say that Olivier Kemen has had a frustrating season would be an understatement. The Cameroon-born midfielder came through Metz’s academy before moving to Newcastle in 2013, where he failed to make an impact, despite making the bench for the Premier League club on a handful of occasions. Seizing on Kemen’s frustration, Lyon moved to bring him on board in 2015, on the heels of a strong U19 European Championship for France.

At that point, he was a highly thought of midfielder, capable of operating in a box-to-box role but often used in a double pivot with France’s various youth sides. Along with many of his U19 teammates from 2015, Kemen played in the storied Toulon Tournament last summer, doing well to reach the final against a much more experienced England side.

A year ago, Kemen’s evolution began to evince itself more clearly: always possessed of a combative style which often led to him being deployed in a deeper role (where he became overly familiar with the referee’s notebook), that began to change last summer when Patrice Gonfalone, the manager of France’s U20s at the time, experimented with using the little midfielder in more attacking positions, including as a number ten against England in the final. It was apparent that Kemen still had some rough edges, to say the least, but he also had enough ability on the ball and creativity to influence the match in the opponents’ third without losing any of the drive that had made him so successful when played in front of the back four.

Thus, this last season was looked at as one of opportunity for Kemen, who had turned 20 in the summer. After being a regular for the reserves and playing a handful of matches for the first team towards the season’s end, it seemed he could play a box-to-box role in midfield, perhaps displacing one of Jordan Ferri or Sergi Darder in Bruno Génesio’s rotation.

It wasn’t to be, however, as Lucas Tousart’s meteoric rise saw what had seemed to be an extra spot in midfield claimed by the former Valenciennes youngster. Kemen played regularly for the reserves, but the feeling was one of a lack of opportunity, and he moved on loan to Gazelec Ajaccio in the winter. Lyon rarely loan out their most promising players – indeed, a loan spell from Les Gones has more often than not ended with a player leaving the club rather than establishing himself in the first team. Kemen, though, looks set to break that pattern, having impressed at the Corsican club despite their struggles.

Not a regular starter, Kemen still managed to play more than 800 minutes in Ligue 2, scoring four goals while only earning one yellow card, a marked improvement over a 2015/16 season that had seen him average roughly a booking every other match. He has also continued to improve his range of passing, and might have had more than a solitary assist with better finishing from his teammates.

As Corentin Tolisso and potentially Maxime Gonalons head to the exit at the Parc OL this summer, Kemen seems to now have a clearer path in terms of opportunities in the first team. Buoyed by his impressive loan spell, what had seemed a dismal season has now become anything but; failing to make the U21 side ahead of their friendlies with Albania and Cameroon might be countenanced as a disappointment, but with the likes of Adrien Rabiot, Tolisso and Tiemoué Bakayoko having aged out of the side, there are likely to be more opportunities with Les Espoirs as well, heralding a future that once again looks bright.

Eric Devin

After this profile was written it was confirmed that Kemen will be loaned back to Gazelec for a further season.

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