Olympique Lyonnais’ summer transfer campaign of 2016 was dominated not by who they managed to sign, but who they managed to retain.
All of their top stars shunned advances from abroad amid the promise of Champions League football, with Alexandre Lacazette and Corentin Tolisso the leading lights who elected to remain with Bruno Genesio’s side.
Lacazette might have been the player to win the plaudits at Parc OL, having enjoyed another prolific Ligue 1 season, but Tolisso has been just as vital to the advancement of the season.
Indeed, as Lyon claimed a 2-1 victory over Besiktas in Thursday’s Europa League quarter-final first leg, it was the midfielder who starred.
The 22-year-old, whose ancestors hail from Reunion Island, has been something of a Swiss Army Knife of a player for Lyon since debuting in August 2013, having featured in a myriad of positions and having carried out a multitude of roles.
“It’s a luxury to have a player like him because wherever he plays on the field, he plays well,” Genesio explained earlier this season. “He’s got qualities above the average and he’s making them talk fully now.”
‘Coco’ broke into the team amid a great injury crisis, and was frequently used as a right-back as he cut his teeth for the Rhone Valley giants. Since those days, however, he has moved forward on the field, both literally and metaphorically.
Able to be deployed anywhere from a deep-lying midfielder in front of the defence to a false No.9 leading his side, Tolisso has become one of the most valuable players in Ligue 1. Nevertheless, it is in the heart of the park that Stephane Roche, who coached him as a youngster, sees him as most effective.
“At times close to the defence and at others in support of the attack,” the Lyon youth and reserve coach said. “He is so complete.”
Tolisso’s decision to shun the advances of Napoli last summer, with the Italians having offered Lyon a reported fee of €37.5 million for his services, has been vindicated as he has stepped up another level in his game.
This was recognised in March, when he made his international debut against Spain, and in the summer he is tipped to finally fledge his nest with a transfer to Juventus, while Barcelona and Arsenal have also been mentioned in dispatches over his future.
A departure from Lyon, where he has played since he was 13, having been born less than 30 miles away, is not entirely guaranteed, however.
“I want to continue to improve, and I’ll see what happens, whether that’s with Lyon or not,” he recently told RMC.
“My principle aim is to go to the World Cup with France, and for that I have to be in the best condition possible. If I am to stay, it will be because I’ve decided that this will be the best choice for me to go to the World Cup.”
He has come a long way from the player who, just 18 months ago, found himself struggling for form and was accused of having grown a big head after signing a new deal following a successful debut campaign in France.
Erstwhile coach Hubert Fournier lamented his charge’s performance, but it was not until Genesio took over that Tolisso and Lyon appeared reborn.
Everything has gone very quickly since then. He played a vital role in Lyon’s short-lived but rather promising Champions League campaign, during which they were a whisker away from eliminating Juve, who were left impressed by the goal the Frenchman struck against them in Turin.
He has even captained the club in the absence of Maxime Gonalons and Alexandre Lacazette.
Over the last year he has grown in assurance, as father Vincent testified to L’Equipe. “The Napoli episode made him conscious of his value,” he explained. “He said: ‘If a club like that is interested in me, I must be a good little player.’”
Tolisso has long since graduated from just being merely “good”, as Lyon are well aware. He may not catch the international headlines in the manner of Lacazette, but he is every bit as important to his side and that is likely to be reflected in his transfer fee when he does depart.