Defender Jason Denayer moved from junior football at an academy in his native Belgium to join Manchester City’s setup aged 18 in 2013. He impressed during his first season in the youth team at City, but would never go on to make a first team appearance for the club. Instead he was farmed out on a series of season-long loan deals to gain experience over the next four years.
First came a sojourn in Glasgow with Celtic where he quickly established himself as part of the team that won the Premiership and League Cup double, contributing five goals along the way and also appearing in the Champions League and Europa League.
More major honours were to follow in the subsequent campaign, which he spent in Istanbul with Galatasaray, who he helped to a Turkish Cup final victory over Fenerbahçe in 2016. Denayer got his first taste of English Premier League action the following season on loan at Sunderland, but he was unable to prevent their eventual relegation.
Still surplus to requirements at Manchester City, Denayer rejoined Galatasaray for another season on loan in 2017-18 and helped them to a Turkish Süper Lig title. By the age of twenty-three he had won two league titles and two domestic cup competitions but had yet to make a first team appearance for a club that actually owned him. That was to change in August 2018 when he signed a permanent deal to take him to Olympique Lyonnais for €6.5 million.
The muscular centre-back soon became an integral part of the Lyon back line, his distinctive dreadlocks and combative playing style making him stand out on the pitch. He seems to have a knack of being in the right place at the right time to make crucial last ditch interceptions and blocks preventing almost certain goals and saving the team on many an occasion. He’s certainly not afraid to get stuck in where it hurts and put his body on the line for the cause of his club.
The son of a Belgian father and Congolese mother, Denayer represented Belgium at youth levels before making his international debut as a substitute away against Israel in March 2015 aged 19 and getting his first start away against France in June of the same year. He has won thirteen caps for the Red Devils at the time of writing.
Hopefully Denayer has a long and bright future ahead of him in Lyon but the club need to settle upon a regular defensive system and partner for him. At times he has been used alongside either Marcelo or Joachim Andersen at centre-back and it’s very much a case of Denayer plus one other in the middle when Lyon play a back four. Against stronger opposition they have often reverted to a back three playing Denayer with Marcelo and Andersen or sometimes Marçal. Denayer would probably benefit from some continuity of system to allow him to forge a partnership as the Lyon defence can often look like a collection of individuals rather than a cohesive unit.