Born in Cork in 2001, Jake O’Brien is a centre-back who represents the Republic of Ireland national team at Under-21 level and currently plies his trade at Olympique Lyonnais in Ligue 1 in France. He is notable for being one of the first players to have his career trajectory significantly shaped by American businessman John Textor’s multi-club ownership project.
O’Brien began his career with his local club, Cork City, in the League of Ireland, but he hadn’t made many appearances for the ‘Rebel Army’ before he attracted the attention of scouts from Crystal Palace in the English Premier League and he joined them on loan in February 2021.
Following an impressive few months playing for Palace’s U23 team in the Premier League 2 Division 2, the then twenty-year-old defender made the move permanent in August 2021, the same month in which Textor bought his 40% share of the Crystal Palace ownership.
An Eagle out on loan
O’Brien spent the first half of the 2021-22 campaign back with Palace’s U23s before moving on loan to Swindon Town in the January transfer window, where he experienced his first taste of senior English football. He went straight into the Robins’ first team and helped them to a sixth place finish in League Two before suffering play-off heartbreak at the hands of Port Vale in a second-leg penalty shootout.
Meanwhile, Textor had acquired control of Belgian second division club R.W.D. Molenbeek and he wasted no time in reinforcing them as soon as the summer 2022 transfer window opened. Jake O’Brien was sent there on a season-long loan, alongside fellow Palace prospect Luke Plange, and a plethora of players from Textor’s other club, Botafogo.
That move proved to be the making of O’Brien. He was virtually ever-present as RWDM stormed to the Challenger Pro League title and promotion to the top flight. He scored the first three goals of his professional career and even made the divisional team of the season alongside three of his club mates, including Kylian Hazard, brother of Eden.
A Textor book transfer
Upon the conclusion of O’Brien’s loan period in Belgium in the summer of 2023, it was clear that he was ready to step up a level, but would that be back in England with Crystal Palace or elsewhere? It so happened that John Textor had been shopping for football clubs again and had recently added Lyon to his portfolio. They were in need of reinforcements in the centre-back department and so a deal was agreed to take the Irishman to France for a fee of €1 million.
Initially O’Brien was expected to be a squad player at Lyon, behind the likes of Dejan Lovren, Duje Ćaleta-Car and Sinaly Diomandé in the pecking order for a starting berth in defence. He didn’t feature at all under Laurent Blanc in the opening rounds of the season but was drafted straight into the team when Fabio Grosso replaced Blanc at the helm.
His debut came in a 2-0 defeat at Reims, during which O’Brien earned plaudits for his personal performance despite his team’s struggles. He became only the second Irish player to represent Olympique Lyonnais, following in the footsteps of his fellow centre-back Mick McCarthy. Grosso continued to place his faith in the young defender and retained him in the team for the following matches as Lyon sought their first win of the campaign.
O’Brien instantly looked at home playing at this level and is one of the few bright spots of Lyon’s season so far. Hopefully he’ll stick around in the city for longer than McCarthy did, and will help to drag the team away from the relegation zone as the season progresses.