Corentin Tolisso is a dynamic and versatile midfielder who is best known for winning the FIFA World Cup with France in 2018, and for his club career with Bayern Munich and Olympique Lyonnais.
Tolisso, son of a Togolese immigrant, hails from the small town of Tarare in the Rhône department, some twenty-eight miles outside Lyon, and began playing junior football with local youth teams such as Stade Amplepuisien and FC Pays de l’Arbresle.
His exceptional abilities on the field quickly caught the attention of scouts, and he soon found himself in the youth academy of Olympique Lyonnais, one of France’s most renowned football clubs. Tolisso’s development within the Lyon academy was marked by his strong work ethic, technical prowess, and tactical understanding of the game.
In 2013, a week after his nineteenth birthday, Corentin Tolisso made his first-team debut for Lyon as a late substitute in a Ligue 1 match against Nice at the Stade de Gerland. It would be a few months until he earned his first start for the club, but his composed playing style, excellent passing range, and ability to contribute defensively soon earned him a regular spot in the first eleven.
Over the next three seasons, Tolisso became a key member of the Lyon midfield as the club twice finished as runners-up in Ligue 1 behind Paris Saint-Germain and reached the semi-finals of the Europa League in 2017. Having been involved with the national team at various youth levels, he received his first call-up for the full France squad in March 2017 and made his debut in a friendly against Spain.
Tolisso’s standout performances at Lyon had drawn the attention of European football powerhouses, and in the summer of 2017, he secured a high-profile transfer to Bayern Munich, one of the most successful clubs in the world. The fee of €41.5 million was a record for both clubs involved. Whilst at Lyon, Tolisso had amassed 160 appearances, scoring 29 goals.
During his time at Bayern Munich, Tolisso was part of numerous domestic and international triumphs. He played a crucial role in Bayern’s dominance of the Bundesliga, contributing with goals, assists, and an all-around midfield presence. His ability to score from distance and his knack for arriving in the box at the right time earned him a reputation as a goal-scoring midfielder.
His first season in Bavaria got off to a flying start as he made his club debut in the 2017 DFL-Supercup win against Borussia Dortmund and then scored on his Bundesliga debut. He nailed down a place at the heart of the Bayern Munich midfield as they won the league by twenty-one points and the campaign culminated with his inclusion in Didier Deschamps’ France squad for the 2018 FIFA World Cup held in Russia.
Aged 23, Tolisso was approaching the heigh of his powers as the tournament began and he was in the starting line-up for France’s opening match, a 2-1 win against Australian in Kazan. He sat out the subsequent two group games but was involved again in the classic 4-3 victory against Agrentina in the last sixteen, when he came off the bench to replace Blaise Matuidi in the 75th minute.
Back in the starting line-up for the quarter-finals, he played an important role in France’s 2-0 win against Uruguay, and then came off the bench late on in the 1-0 semi-final win over Belgium. He was a substitute once again for the final and was introduced in the 73rd minute in place of Matuidi as France looked to protect their 4-2 lead. Thus he was on the pitch at the final whistle when France secured their second world title and what will remain the crowning glory of his career.
At the end of the year, along with the rest of the French World Cup winning squad, Tolisso was made a Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur, France’s highest order of merit. However, by then his fortunes had taken a turn for the worse. In his first start for Bayern since the World Cup, he had ruptured a cruciate ligament in his right knee, having earlier scored the equaliser in a 3-1 home win against Bayer Leverkusen.
That injury, on matchday three of the season, ruled him out of the remainder of the Bundesliga campaign and he had to look on from the side-lines as Bayern retained their title. His comeback match was actually in the German Cup Final at the Olympiastadion in Berlin, where he replaced Javi Martínez in the 65th minute of a 3-0 win against RB Leipzig to help Bayern secure a league and cup double.
The following season, 2019-20, was his most successful at Bayern in terms of trophies, as they won a historic treble of league, cup and UEFA Champions League. However, on a personal level, Tolisso again struggled with injuries and needed ankle surgery in April whilst the season was suspended due to Covid. He recovered from that in time to play a role in the delayed final stages of the Champions League and featured as a late substitute against Lyon in the semi-final and against PSG in the final.
His last two seasons at Bayern brought two more league titles, but were blighted by ever more frequent injuries, which restricted his playing time. Bayern decided not to renew his contract and he was allowed to return to Lyon, signing a five year contract with his boyhood club. In total he had played 145 times for Bayern, scoring twenty-three goals.
Tolisso’s first season back in Ligue 1 was a lot more consistent, and mercifully free of any serious injuries. He grew in influence on the pitch towards the latter end of the campaign and was beginning to approach some of his old heights. At 29, he still has a lot to offer if he can maintain his fitness, and he could be a pillar of the Lyon team for several years to come, perhaps by slowly adapting his style of play to mitigate his advancing years.
Even as Corentin Tolisso continues to evolve as a footballer, his legacy within French and international football is already assured. With his unique skill set and unwavering commitment, he stands as an inspiration for aspiring players in the Lyon academy and a symbol of the heights that can be reached through talent and hard work.