Nebil Fekir: Following in the footsteps of Karim Benzema in terms of style and career path

Lyon forward Nabil Fekir is Ian Hawkey's player to watch this week.

Nabil Fekir has been a breakout star for Lyon this season, but his rise to prominence has created a row over his international allegiance.  Jean Paul Thomas / Icon Sport
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Nabil Fekir is a young man in demand. The 21-year-old, perhaps the revelation of a French season that could yet come to a thrilling climax as his Lyon chase champions Paris Saint-Germain at the top of the table, is being explicitly courted by PSG. For much of the past year, he has also been the subject of a tug-of-war between two national teams.

Cockerel or Desert Fox?

Fekir was born in France, in the Lyon area, the son of an Algerian, Mohammed Fekir, who emigrated to Europe in 1992. His father made it clear, as Nabil’s talent took him on a fast-track to the professional game, that he would like his son to represent Algeria, the so-called Desert Foxes, internationally. But there was a dilemma. France, the Cockerels, hosts of the next European championship, want him too.

Controversy and conflict

In March, Christian Courcuff, the head coach of Algeria — a Frenchman — reported that Fekir had told him, after a series of meetings, he had opted to play for Algeria. Not so, said Fekir, who, having spoken about the “complicated” choice, then declared he would be opting for the nation of his birth. He had also changed agents to be represented by the same agent who acts for Didier Deschamps, the France head coach. Deschamps gave him his international debut at the end of March. There was disappointment and some anger in Algeria.

In the footsteps of Benzema

The issue was in danger of overshadowing Fekir’s brilliance on the field for a dynamic Lyon, for who Fekir, who has a charmed left foot and a wide range of tricks on the ball, has scored 12 goals this season, dovetailing effectively with prolific striker Alexandre Lacazette. He operates just off the centre-forward, a No 10, and has been compared with fellow French-Algerian Karim Benzema, another who grew up at Lyon, and with the skilful Hatem Ben Arfa, who also played for Lyon and France before his career lost its way. “He reminds me of Ben Arfa,” said Real Madrid’s Benzema, “who I saw do some unbelievable things with the ball.”

Predatory PSG

Benzema, speaking at the time of Fekir’s first France call-up, added that he thought Ben Arfa had left Lyon — to join Marseille — too young. A hint to Fekir? Perhaps. There is no shortage of other clubs interested in signing him, and soon. Last week, PSG coach Laurent Blanc spoke about how much he admired Lacazette and Fekir. “Saying that now is an obvious attempt to destabilise us,” snarled Lyon coach, Hubert Fournier, who needs his talented front men fully focused on the championship run-in.