They call him the crown jewel of Marseille, and rightly so. Maxime Lopez personifies the Marseille spirit, embodying the dream of all teenagers in the beguiling city south of France overlooking the glistening Mediterranean Sea.
Born and bred in Marseille, the baby-faced technician was signed from local amateur club Burel FC in 2010, at the tender age of 13. La Commanderie may not be a familiar name to most, but it is the apogee for all aspiring young footballers in the city of Marseille. The academy has produced the Ayew brothers (Jordan and Andre), both playing in the Premier League at the moment, and more famously, Samir Nasri, whom young Maxime Lopez has been likened to by Marseille’s rank-and-file for both his playing style and Algerian heritage.
Last season saw Lopez’s rise to prominence, as then-coach Franck Passi gave him his debut in OM’s second league game of the season, a 2-1 defeat away at Guingamp. He immediately rose to the occasion, providing an assist for teammate Florian Thauvin just 18 minutes into his league debut. Little did he know, it was merely the beginning of a string of first-team appearances.
On the 20th of October, Rudi Garcia was appointed manager of Les Phoceens, and just later that month, rewarded Lopez with his first league start, a home game against Bordeaux that ended 0-0. From then on, Maxime Lopez never looked back. Establishing himself as a regular in Rudi Garcia’s preferred 4-3-3 set up, Lopez’s consistency attracted the plaudits of top coaches around the world. In the words of French prince Zinedine Zidane, “He’s someone who runs a lot…who has always had this outstanding natural talent at his age and for his stature.”
Standing at 5”5 as a central midfielder, Maxime Lopez’s height disadvantage may seem like an obvious weakness especially for his position, but he makes up for it in other aspects of his game. Primarily, what sets Lopez apart from the rest is his ability to make quick, intelligent decisions in tight situations, making use of his superior football IQ to outsmart far greater physical midfielders he comes up against. In spite of his petite size, the young playmaker is incredibly hard to dispossess, with an innate ability to draw fouls in dangerous situations.
Lopez exudes confidence in every stride he takes, fearlessly dribbling at opposition players and creating opportunities to penetrate defensive lines. Lopez’s dynamic body shape and low centre of gravity, coupled with his superb close control and technique on the ball, allows him to manipulate his body shape to fool opposition players in misreading the direction of his pass, almost akin to Sergio Busquets.
His desire to receive the ball and make an impact on the game, wanting to assume responsibility to help his team progress their attack, makes him an undisputable asset to any potential future suitors that may come knocking. This is apparent as Lopez made 129 touches in a home game vs. Caen on the 20th of November, breaking the record for the most touches in a single football game in Marseille’s entire history, at just 19 years of age!
As Zidane pointed out, the youngster’s hardworking nature constitutes of him constantly moving into space to receive, allowing him to ‘play a lot and make others play as well.’ Maxime Lopez is able to slow or quicken the pace of the game at ease, endowed with the recherché ability to dictate the tempo of the game, like Xabi Alonso.
Off the ball, Lopez is more inclined to use his astute reading of play to make interceptions, but he is also able to make crunching tackles to win possession when required. His ability to stay focused throughout the 90 minutes without switching off is incredibly uncharacteristic for a 19-year old, and will be one of the many traits that will ensure a big move for the Frenchman in the future.
Able to function as a #10 or an #8, Lopez’s versatility is another one of his many assets, though I personally feel he’s more of the former, playing in advanced areas of the pitch, able to make key passes under high-pressure situations. His extensive passing range, dribbling ability, coupled with his intelligent positioning off the ball and timing of runs make him Marseille’s focal point in the final third, to break down deep blocks.
Of course, the petite magician carrying the hopes and dreams of Marseille’s fans is not quite the finished product. Though it is difficult to find weaknesses in his game, his lack of aerial nous stands out as a potential issue. Lopez’s difficulty at maintaining a level of consistency could also determine whether he truly turns out to become an elite playmaker in prospect.
All in all, Maxime Lopez is blessed with many qualities that are atypical for a 19-year old. Comparable to Toni Kroos, Xabi Alonso, and Sergio Busquets in terms of playing style, Lopez has a boundless ceiling that is yet to be reached. He may be mistaken for a 16-year old kid on the streets, but he certainly does not shy away from responsibility on the pitch, stepping up for his team when it matters.
If Marseille’s crown jewel is able to keep his feet on the ground and continue developing at this rate, there is little doubt he will establish himself as one of Europe’s greatest playmakers in the next decade. Perhaps, a Ballon d’Or will beckon.
By: Ervin Ang/@DieHardCFCFan