From Rayan Cherki to Castello Lukeba, from Malo Gusto to Maxence Caqueret, we’ve seen quite a few Lyon academy products establish themselves as key figures in the first team recently, and the latest talent to make the step up for Les Gones is 20-year-old winger Bradley Barcola. Born in Villeurbanne to Togolese parents, Barcola joined Lyon at the age of eight, emerging as a prolific goalscorer for the U-19s in 2020/21 in the UEFA Youth League and France’s fourth tier before signing his first professional contract in September 2021.
He made his professional debut two months later, replacing Rayan Cherki in the 81st minute of their home match against Sparta Prague and setting up Karl Toko Ekambi with the third and final goal of a 3-0 win, helping them qualify for the Europa League Round of 16. He would register 11 Ligue 1 and 2 Europa League appearances in 2021/22, his sole other goal contribution coming with an assist in a 6-1 win against Bordeaux.
After being used sparingly through the first half of the campaign, Barcola grabbed his first goal for Lyon on January 7, 2023, opening the scoring in a 2-1 win against second-tier Metz in the Coupe de France. Three weeks later, he was given his first start of the season in Ligue 1 and set up Johann Lepenant’s opener within 20 minutes of their 2-0 win at Ajaccio. He began February by opening the scoring before the interval in a 3-1 win at Troyes and he ended it by sealing Lyon’s 3-1 win at Angers with an extra time goal and scoring in their 2-1 win vs. Grenoble in the cup.
His stellar form continued throughout the year, grabbing a goal and an assist in a thrilling 3-3 draw vs. Lille, registering an assist vs. Nantes and starting April off by scoring the winner in a 1-0 victory at PSG, before adding another goal in a 3-1 win vs. Rennes. Whilst he was unable to find the back of the net as Lyon lost to defending champions Nantes in the Coupe de France semifinals, he kicked off May with a hat-trick of assists in a 5-4 win against Montpellier before registering an assist in their 3-1 win vs. Monaco and a brace of assists in their 3-0 win vs. Reims.
Photo: Football Talent Scout and SmarterScout
Barcola has registered 7 goals and 10 assists in 35 appearances across all competitions for Lyon this season, averaging 1.6 key passes per 90, 2.5 successful dribblers per 90 and 1.6 tackles per 90, whilst he has also created 10 big chances. He is an electric winger who is blessed with explosive pace, physical strength, dribbling ability and trickery as an attacking midfielder or as a supporting striker, and he possesses a brilliant vision of the game and knows how to time his runs to perfection.
Lyon finished seventh and have missed out on European qualification, but they can nevertheless take pride in a campaign that saw academy graduates like Barcola, Mamadou Sarr, Mohammed El Arouch, and Thibaut Ehling make waves at the first-team level whilst Alexandre Lacazette stole the show in his return with 27 goals and Rayan Cherki became a key figure in attack and the team’s creative talisman following the exit of Lucas Paqueta.
They have already lost Malo Gusto, Moussa Dembele, and Houssem Aouar, but they will nevertheless be looking to keep hold of Barcola, yet another homegrown figure in Lyon’s young core. According to Opta Analyst, Lyon ranks as one of the top clubs in Europe in terms of minutes for U-25 players with an estimated 11153 minutes.
Photo: Opta Analyst
Barcola boasts an imposing, tall frame that allows him to cover plenty of ground and excel in counter-attacking situations, using his pace and long strides to not just zoom past the opposition in transitions, but also track back on defense. He tends to be played as a winger despite having played as a center forward at the youth level, and whilst he can seem ungainly at times, he’s effective in duels and can wreak havoc when he’s in momentum, although his technique can let him down in slower situations and tight spaces.
Whilst he excels at cutting in and threading the needle with a key pass, Barcola isn’t afraid to take on his man and put his divine footwork to use. His ability to play in various positions and his technical ability make him a valuable asset to the club. He will need to build up his balance as he easily gets knocked off the ball, but he’s got a brilliant knack for getting into the right place at the right time in the box. However, his decision-making needs refinement, especially when deciding when to take on his man or simply opt for a safer option.
Barcola’s heat map [SofaScore]
Whilst he is still fairly rough around the edges, Bradley Barcola has taken Ligue 1 by storm with his work rate, explosive speed and and attacking threat from wide positions, and with 14 goal contributions in the French top-flight, he ranks as one of the top-scoring U-21 players in Europe alongside Jamal Musiala, Gabri Veiga and Sepe Elye Wahi.
Lyon’s academy has produced a treasure trove of divinely gifted players such as Karim Benzema, Hatem Ben Arfa, Nabil Fekir, Samuel Umtiti and Alexandre Lacazette, and it is estimated that 8-12% of the players from each group coming through the youth system is given a professional contract to sign at Lyon or elsewhere as opposed to 5-6% at the average club in France.
It has been a rocky few years for Lyon, who have finished seventh or lower in three of the last four seasons, but they nevertheless have the blueprint to success in their state-of-the-art academy. Should they manage to keep hold of key figures like Caqueret, Cherki and Barcola and continue to trust their up-and-coming graduates with continued opportunities at the first-team level, they may just have what it takes to take advantage of their lack of European football and push to return to France’s upper echelon.
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / FEP / Icon Sport