Nabil Fekir aiming to get back on track at Lyon after Liverpool saga
Nabil Fekir will captain Lyon in the Champions League this week
By Nick Wright
Last Updated: 24/09/18 5:09pm
Nabil Fekir's move to Liverpool fell through in the summer but the Lyon forward will be in England on Wednesday to face Manchester City in the Champions League.
Fekir was expected to move to Anfield before the World Cup but the transfer was called off amid reported concerns over his injury record, with Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas insisting Liverpool had taken too long to get the £53m deal done.
The speculation continued all summer, but the transfer window closed without a move coming to fruition. So has he been welcomed back by his boyhood club? Have his performances been affected?
It is no secret that Fekir was keen on the move to Liverpool, but there were no hard feelings from Lyon supporters, who celebrated the news that he would be staying at the club. On June 9, hours after it was confirmed, he was given a rapturous reception at Lyon's Groupama Stadium during France's final World Cup warm-up game against the United States.
Fekir was a second-half substitute for Antoine Griezmann that day, and he went on to make six appearances from the bench during France's triumphant World Cup campaign. In the final against Croatia, he replaced Olivier Giroud with nine minutes to play.
Fekir's playing time in Russia amounted to just 69 minutes, but he received a hero's welcome back at Lyon. His extended holiday meant he was not included in their squad for their first two games of the season, but he was present in the curtain-raising home fixture against Amiens, parading the World Cup trophy before kick-off and soaking up the adulation of the supporters.
Fekir did not rule out a move away from Lyon initially, insisting he "did not know what would happen" at the start of August, but by the end of the month it seemed he had put the episode behind him. "Yes, the failed Liverpool move has been totally digested," he said. "These things can happen. That is how it is. You have to move on. It is ancient history."
Fekir stopped short of revealing the reason why the move to Anfield broke down, saying "only Liverpool know" what really went on, but his acceptance of the situation came as a boost for Lyon and their manager, Bruno Genesio.
The failed Liverpool move has been totally digested. These things can happen. That is how it is. You have to move on. It is ancient history.
"It's never easy accepting this kind of situation when you are very near to signing for a club you want to go to, where you want to reach another level and to give a boost to your career, but it could have been worse for him," said Genesio.
"He is at Lyon, at a strong club, he is captain of a team who plays in the Champions League and who also have some big expectations in Ligue 1. He now has to contribute towards a great season for us like he did last year."
The question now is whether Fekir can hit the same heights as last season, when he scored a career-best 18 Ligue 1 goals to help Lyon finish third. "He has come back as he left: motivated and interested," said Genesio last week. "I expect a lot from him. He is a very important player, on the pitch and off it. He can be decisive with passes and goals."
So far, however, Fekir has been unable to inspire Lyon to the right results. He made his first appearances of the season as a 79th-minute substitute in a 2-0 win over Strasbourg, but his first start ended in a 1-0 loss at home to Nice. He then scored a superb free kick on his second start against Caen at the weekend, but Lyon could only manage a 2-2 draw.
Genesio was far from happy with his team's performance. "The commitment, the investment, the intensity, Caen had those things but we didn't," he said. "I am very disappointed, very angry, because the match went exactly as we had planned, but we were not able to find answers."
It is not the start Fekir might have hoped for but his free-kick was a bright spot in the disappointing performance and the statistics suggest he has been as dangerous as ever. According to Opta, he has attempted 17 shots already this season. Only four players in Ligue 1 have attempted more despite Fekir playing just 166 minutes of a possible 450.
Manchester City will need to be wary at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday.
What does the future hold?
It seems unlikely that Liverpool would go back in for Fekir if they do have genuine concerns over his injury record, but Jurgen Klopp did not rule it out when asked about the situation back in the summer.
"It's probably done," he told Sky Sports in July. "If nothing happens with our boys, then I'm happy," he added. "It's fine. So we can go. But if something happens, I think you always have to make sure that you can react. If not now, the next year, whatever."
But even if Liverpool is not Fekir's next destination, it is unlikely to be long until one of Europe's leading sides make a move for him. He hit new heights last season, with his 18 goals and eight assists in Ligue 1, but he has been starring for Lyon ever since his breakthrough in 2013. The Champions League provides him with a perfect stage to continue his progress.
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