Remember the name. You will be hearing it a lot more very soon…
Lyon’s Champions League Round of 16 triumph over Juventus took the football world by surprise. Very few people gave them any chance of moving on, and it seemed that the second leg was poised for another Cristiano Ronaldo heroic hat trick to send the Bianconero through. However, Lyon moved on by the skin of their teeth, through grit, fight, team defensive solidity, and a little bit of luck. This tenacity and fight seemed to be epitomized by one player, a kid making his European debut for his boyhood club.
Welcome to the big time, Maxence Caqueret. We welcome another in a long line of Lyon academy graduates to the spotlights of European football.
Born in Vénissieux, a suburb of Lyon, Caqueret came through Les Gones‘ famous academy, emerging very early on as a promising young talent. His insane work rate, ability in the tackle, and fighting desire, despite his small frame, helped elevate him to being among the brightest stars in the academy teams. He also demonstrated leadership qualities at an early age, eventually becoming the captain of many Lyon youth teams. It seemed to be a question of when, not if, the youngster would make his break in the first team.
Despite some barriers to entry and some controversial management of the youth team promotions, Caqueret finally got his chance in the first team this season. Despite limited chances, he shone as a bright light of a disappointing season for OL. The tenacity, fight, and tackling ability he was known for in the youth teams came through, winning tackles and intercepting passes at a rate higher than almost any midfielder in Ligue 1 during his brief run in the first team. He also demonstrated a fantastic range of passing and attacking intelligence, able to act as a bridge between defense and attack and fill multiple roles in the midfield, not just being a ball-winner. Consistent time in the first team seemed to be blocked by other players, however, as Lucas Tousart and Thiago Mendes still featured heavily, and the addition of Bruno Guimarães seemed to present another roadblock. Despite this, it was clear that Lyon had another academy gem on their hands, a secret really only known within France.
Then, the season was ended early due to the COVID pandemic. Tousart left the club for Hertha Berlin shortly after. Lyon still had to prepare for their Champions League match against Juventus, but the look of the midfield was unclear. Tousart had scored in the first leg against Juventus, so his absence would be an interesting twist in the tie. Garcia decided to take a risk, opting for the 20-year-old Caqueret to make his European debut, playing in a midfield alongside Guimarães and Houssem Aouar. The more experienced pairing of Thiago Mendes and Jeff Reine-Adélaïde were left on the bench, and it was a gamble that paid off.
Caqueret shone in the heart of the Lyon midfield, arguably being one of the team’s best performers. He was relentless defensively, hounding Pjanić and Rabiot in midfield and winning the ball back repeatedly. He was often going against the larger Rabiot, but his fearlessness shone through. Notably, late in the match, he would rise higher than Rabiot to win a header and draw a foul, showing a lack of fear in going body-to-body with the 6’4″ Rabiot. His technical ability was also on full display, using his passing and dribbling ability to get out of trouble and relieve the pressure on the Lyon defense. There were multiple moments where he had the composure to dribble around an opposing player or quickly change direction with a Juventus player bearing down on him to win the ball back. The most notable example of this was an instance in the second half when he received the ball at the top of the box with three Juventus players going after him. He quickly took a touch and made a move to beat all three players, finding himself in the space needed to take a shot at goal, which was deflected. This is a kid who is 20 years old and has played a little more than a dozen professional matches playing with the composure, maturity, and mental understanding of a veteran player with years of professional and European experience.
He was all over the pitch, contributing up front and defensively. It was a mind-blowing performance, one that launches the career of a young player into the stratosphere. He was technically brilliant, tactically on point the whole match, and physically gave his all for his boyhood club. He was so good that he stayed on for the whole match, with Aouar being the midfielder Rudi Garcia chose to withdraw. He was the embodiment of that Lyon performance in Turin, where they fought and clawed their way to the quarterfinals of the Champions League. He was my man of the match from that game, and clearly he was a player who caught the eye of several media members and other football fans watching to see what Ronaldo might do.
Football world, meet Maxence Caqueret. Learn his name now, because I guarantee this will not be the last time you read or hear it.