Let’s take a trip back to August of 2010: it was just over a month since France self combusted in the World Cup unlike any country in recent memory, the 2010-11 Ligue 1 season was about to begin and one of the young members from that disgraceful French squad was about to start his new journey. For the sum of around 23 million Euros, Yoann Gourcuff signed on from Bordeaux to Lyon.
“The next Zinedine Zidane” as some in the French media touted him, this was the big money move that should’ve launched Gourcuff’s career to a point that though probably wouldn’t reach Zidane’s apex, it would damn near get close. His career up until that move was filled with highs and lows. His Milan tenure was a disaster. Gourcuff never fitted in the minute he came in, with teammates and coaches taking shots at the Frenchman. It also didn’t help that his competition in the squad included a fella by the name of Kaka, who at that time was one of the best players in world football and at the peak of his powers.
That all set up a loan move to Bordeaux and under the stewardship of Laurent Blanc, Yoann Gourcuff’s career would take off. He was part of the 2008-09 Bordeaux side that won the French domestic double; the league title and the Coupe de la Ligue. It was also the side that famously ended Lyon’s stranglehold on the Ligue 1 crown. Up until 2008-09, Lyon had won seven straight Ligue 1 crowns.
Gourcuff also experienced the individual accolades during his time with Bordeaux. In his first season: He won the Ligue 1 player of the year award, was player of the month in April of 2009. He was part of the Ligue 1 team of the year, was named French player of the year from the illustrious magazine France Football, and finished 20th in the Ballon D’or voting. 15 goals and 15 assists in all competitions, it was Gourcuff at his absolute best. His accuracy from dead ball situations was superb, his ability to maneuver in tight spaces was Zidane like.
The team success wasn’t as plentiful for Gourcuff in his second season with Bordeaux. Bordeaux finished 6th in Ligue 1 and didn’t qualify for the Europa League, they lost to Marseille in the Coupe de la Ligue final and bowed out of the Coupe de France in the round of 16 versus Monaco. The only saving grace of Bordeaux’s season was their run in the Champions League that got them to the quarterfinals against Lyon. Gourcuff on an individual level still performed at a high level.
The two year run with Bordeaux was a massive success for Yoann Gourcuff, especially when one considers how big of a disaster his time at Milan was. He won a lot of trophies in a short time span, won individual awards and had a taste of the Champions League. Even though his 2009-10 season concluded with him being a member of the 2010 French WC side that left a black mark in the history of French football, Gourcuff should’ve embarked on the prime years of his career with his move to Lyon.
Alas the operative word is “should’ve”. His time with Lyon has been a mess, with injuries cutting out so many games over the past five seasons. He has never cracked over 2000 minutes in a Ligue 1 season with Lyon (he did this in both his Bordeaux seasons), and has only cracked the 1500 minute in Ligue 1 once which was his first season in 2010-11. Name the body part and there’s a good chance that Gourcuff injured it; multiple knee injuries, groin strains, back issues, repeated foot injuries. These weren’t the type of injuries that would put Gourcuff out for a week or two, but multiple months.
It was a shame, a football tragedy. Someone as talented as Gourcuff, who combined his talent on the ball with the intellect and tactical awareness of a genuine football manager wasn’t supposed to have the prime of their career cut out because of weird, niggling injuries that would repeatedly come out worse than expected. It even got to the point where Gourcuff missed the final game of last season because he sprained his ankle walking the dog. Seriously! It was as if someone had a Yoann Gourcuff voodoo doll and for whatever reason, decided that those Bordeaux years was enough happiness for the rest of us.
There’s a famous saying in football: “form is temporary, class is permanent”. Gourcuff really tested the limits of that saying. His production during his first four seasons with Lyon was a far cry from his years in Bordeaux when he was the embodiment of magical.
Which brings us to this season. It’s been a resurgent one for Lyon. They’re in a genuine fight for their first Ligue 1 title since 2007-08. Led by the terrific striker duo of Alexandre Lacazette and Nabil Fekir and the brilliance of goalkeeper Anthony Lopes, the quality of football being produced by the club has been exquisite, possibly the highest quality the Stade Gerland has seen since the days of Juninho, Florent Malouda and Co.
Gourcuff himself has seen a resurgence. The impact and production he’s had this season is reminiscent of his peak years many moons ago, and his goal versus Marseille will be one of the defining moments of Lyon’s season if they manage to fend off PSG for the league crown. After years of suffering and disappointment, this would be the season that will at least remind us of how special Gourcuff still is.
Sadly, there’s a caveat. The injury bug that has plagued Gourcuff over the last four seasons has remained. Despite the impressive production he’s had this season, it’s only come in 724 minutes and the ways that Gourcuff has managed to injure himself has been positively Gourcuff-ian. Almost as if every good game he produces is some sort of elaborate tease. Look no further to his last performance versus Montpellier last Sunday; two assists on the goals from Fekir including a beautiful 1-2 combination on the first goal.
And here’s another bummer: Gourcuff picked up an injury to his biceps femoris (AKA his thigh) late in the Montpellier match and will likely be out for the massive match versus Marseille on Sunday. It wouldn’t be shocking considering his injury past that Gourcuff would also have to miss next week’s match versus Nice before the international break.
Maybe it wasn’t to be. Maybe it was supposed to play out like this. The young prodigy never fulfilling the prophecy of becoming a heralded great in his native country. Football is littered with stories of young dynamic talents who the world was their oyster but for whatever reason, never quite grabbed onto it. With his contract ending at seasons’ end, we’re embarking on what might be the last stages of Yoann Gourcuff’s career with Lyon. They’ll be suitors for his services. Despite it feeling like forever that he’s been in the public eye, Gourcuff is still only 28 years old and some club will trick themselves into thinking that they could suck some more magic from that mangled body.
It’s pretty fitting that Gourcuff is injured for one of Lyon’s biggest games since the 2010 Champions League semi-finals versus Bayern Munich. Anything different would’ve just been another tease that Gourcuff’s body would’ve played on us. If this truly is the end of Yoann Gourcuff’s time in Ligue 1, treasure what’s left of it: his next delightful throughball, his next assist, his next goal.
His mind was Mozart, his body more resembled a crash test dummy. Oh what could’ve been for a man who 5 years ago looked like the next great Frenchman.