Paul Akouokou, who simply bears the moniker ‘Paul’ on the back of his Lyon shirt, is a defensive midfielder who joined the club from Real Betis for a fee of €3 million in September 2023. The twenty-six year old is an Ivory Coast international with four caps to his name and has previously played in Finland and Israel.
Edgar Paul Akouokou, to give him his full name, was born in Abidjan, the capital of the Ivory Coast in December 1997. A talented junior, he decided to move abroad to pursue his career as a footballer and his first staging post was at Majestic FC in neighbouring Burkina Faso.
Based in the capital, Ouagadougou, Majestic were competing in Ligue 1, the top flight of Burkinabé football. They were a mid to lower half of the table side at the time and they finished the 2015-16 season placed eleventh out of sixteen teams in the table. Akouokou departed before the end of that campaign to join Ekenäs IF in Finland.
From tropical to Nordic climes
Arriving in Ekenäs, a small town of some 14,000 people near Finland’s southern tip, aged just eighteen, Akouokou had to adapt quickly to his new surroundings. He got there in time for the start of the 2016 Ykkönen season, the second level of Finland’s football pyramid, and was quickly integrated into the first team squad.
Akouokou soon established himself as a regular starter at EIF and played a major part in helping them to avoid relegation as they finished eighth in the ten team division. In January 2017, during Finland’s long winter break, Akouokou travelled to France for a trial with Ligue 1 club SCO Angers. However, he failed to sufficiently impress the Angevin coaching staff and returned to EIF for the start of the 2017 Ykkönen campaign.
As Akouokou grew in stature and became ever more influential on the pitch, he began to finally get noticed by scouts from further afield. Two thirds of the way through his second season in Ekenäs, with EIF sitting in sixth place in the table, an offer came in to take him on loan to Beitar Jerusalem in Israel. Unfortunately, Akouokou was sent off in what turned out to be his farewell appearance for EIF, for two yellow cards in the space of two second half minutes in a 4-0 defeat away to TPS.
To Andalusia via The Levant
Akouokou was largely restricted to substitute appearances during his first few months at Beitar as the club challenged near the top of the Israeli Premier League table in the 2017-18 season. At the end of January they decided to send him out on loan to Hapoel Rishon LeZion in the second tier Liga Leumit. He got much more playing time there as Hapoel finished the regular season in fourth place but just missed out on promotion via the play-offs.
In summer 2018, he moved on again. This time the destination was Spain and specifically Seville, where he joined Real Betis. He spent his first two seasons in Spain playing for Betis Deportivo, the club’s reserve team competing in the regionalised Tercera División. They finished sixth in the Western Andalusia table in his first season there but kicked on in 2019-20 to win the title and then gain promotion to the Segunda División B via the play-offs.
His solid performances for the reserves saw him promoted to the Real Betis first team squad for the 2020-21 La Liga campaign. He became the first Ivorian to represent the club, but never quite managed to establish himself as a regular during his three full seasons with the first team. He did accumulate 44 appearances across all competitions and picked up a Copa del Rey winner’s medal in 2022. He didn’t actually make it off the bench during the final (a penalty shoot-out win against Valencia) but he had played earlier in the competition.
International recognition and a new start in France
It was in March 2022, aged twenty-four, that Paul Akouokou received his first call-up to the Ivory Coast national team. He made his debut as a late substitute against France in a 2-1 friendly defeat in Marseille and got on for the final minute of another friendly against England at Wembley four days later. Two further substitute appearances came in the closing stages of Africa Cup of Nations qualification matches the following June, but he hasn’t been involved with the squad since then.
It was reportedly his Betis team mate Nabil Fekir, a former Lyon player, who recommended Paul Akouokou to Lyon in the summer of 2023. Having been a fringe player for long enough, he was looking to move on in search of more regular football. He’ll be hoping that the move to France can help to reignite his career, although it has been a slow start for him at Lyon with just four starts and two substitute appearances in the first half of this season and he’s yet to complete a full ninety minutes for the club.