Rayan Cherki is one of the most highly rated prospects ever to emerge from the Olympique Lyonnais academy. An attacking midfielder, he has been at the club since the age of seven and made his first team debut in October 2019 aged just sixteen.
He has broken many age related records along the way, including becoming the youngest ever player and scorer in the UEFA Youth League, having only just turned 15 when he first lined up in the competition in September 2018. He’s also the second youngest player ever to appear in the Champions League proper, having missed out on Céléstine Babayaro’s record by just a few days when he came on against Zenit in November 2019.
He became the youngest ever Olympique Lyonnais goal scorer in January 2020 when he found the net in the Coupe de France against Bourg-Péronnas and the youngest ever player to appear in a Champions League semi-final when he came on against Bayern Munich later that season.
Cherki was a star player for Lyon’s reserve team in the National 2 division during that 2019-20 season, but was included in the first team squad more and more regularly as the campaign wore on, partly due to an injury crisis with players such as Memphis Depay and Jeff Reine-Adélaïde sidelined by cruciate ligament injuries.
He got his first start in the Coupe de la Ligue against Toulouse in December and his breakthrough performance came in the Coupe de France against Nantes in January when he was involved in all four goals, scoring twice and assisting twice in a 4-3 win that alerted the rest of the world to his talent.
At the start of the 2020-21 campaign he has become a squad regular and is getting more and more game time in a team that is struggling for goals and desperate for an injection of the youthful exuberance and invention that he can bring to a game. It’s surely only a matter of time until he becomes a first team regular.
For now, he needs to concentrate on nailing down a position in the Lyon first team, and that will depend partly on which system coach Rudi Garcia chooses to stick with now that the transfer window has closed and he finally knows the composition of his squad for the remainder of the season.
Attacking midfield or just behind the main striker looks like his best position, but that’s a congested area at Lyon with Depay and the newly arrived Lucas Paqueta competing for game time there. Cherki has sometimes been shunted out to a wide attacking role when called upon from the subs bench and can cope on either flank as he’s proficient with both feet. It’s possible that in time he’ll develop into a deeper all-round central midfielder.
His strengths are undoubtedly his ball control, dribbling and shooting from distance. He has great technical ability and is dangerous from set pieces, with an eye for a killer pass. He has a short, fairly stocky frame and may never be blessed with lightening pace, but can beat opponents with skill rather than speed. His decision making, fitness and strength will improve as he matures and he looks to have what it takes to make it to the very top.
Cherki’s Algerian and Italian heritage mean that he is qualified to play for either of those countries internationally, but thus far he has opted to represent his native France at Under 16 level and if he continues to progress at his current rate he could be a star of a future French midfield alongside similarly precocious talents such as Eduardo Camavinga and Maxence Caqueret. A frightening prospect for the rest of the world!