Gnaly Maxwel Cornet emerged as a striker from the youth ranks at FC Metz and it was in this capacity that Olympique Lyonnais signed him in January 2015, but it wasn’t until his conversion to a wing-back role under coach Rudi Garcia in 2020 that he finally found his place at the club.
Prior to then, the intense competition for places in the front line at Lyon combined with his own inconsistency had meant that he struggled to command a regular spot in the starting line up and was still viewed as little more than a promising talent for the future or an impact substitute.
He has many of the attributes of a forward, not least his electric pace, but has never quite been prolific enough to warrant a spot as the main striker. He can pose plenty of problems cutting in from the left side of attack and that was his most frequent role before an injury crisis in January 2020 led to the experiment with him patrolling the left flank of a 5-3-2 formation.
Since then he has gone from strength to strength, nailing down a first choice spot in the team so emphatically that the club let their only senior left-back, Youssouf Koné, leave on loan to Elche at the start of 2020-21. Koné had been signed for €9 million from Lille only twelve months earlier as a long-term solution for that position.
Cornet may still be learning the role and require a bit of refinement to the defensive side of his game, but his incredible work-rate makes him ideally suited to a wing-back role. He has the energy and athleticism to run up and down the flank at speed for 90 minutes contributing greatly at both ends of the park, mirroring the role of Leo Dubois on the opposite side.
Cornet was impressive in Lyon’s run to the Champions League semi-finals in the 2019-20 season and has reserved some of his finest performances for that competition, particularly against Manchester City, against whom he has scored four times in three matches.
Lyon regularly deploy the three centre-backs with wing-backs formation against strong opponents, but against weaker opposition they often revert to a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3, in which case Cornet can be used as a wide midfielder or striker and occasionally as an orthodox left-back.
Cornet was born in the Ivory Coast and has represented them at international level since his debut in a 5-0 defeat to the Netherlands in Rotterdam in June 2017. He now has 17 caps and four goals to his name. Having moved to France aged just three, he actually represented his adoptive country at every junior level from U16 to U21, scoring plenty of goals along the way but opted for his native country when the call-up came.
Cornet had been something of a prodigy at Metz, making his first team debut aged just 15 as a late substitute in a National game in 2012, when the team were languishing in the third tier of French football. He made nine appearances that season, mostly off the bench and managed a few more he following campaign as Metz won Ligue 2 and clinched a second successive promotion. That was enough to spark the interest of Lyon.
UPDATE: Maxwel Cornet left to join English Premier League club Burnley for a fee of £13.5 million on the 29th of August 2021.