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Nabil Fekir: Why Liverpool, Chelsea & Man Utd in talks for Lyon's €1,000 reject

So how much for Nabil Fekir this summer? €60m? €70m? Well, how about a grand? €1,000. Because that was the fee which took Fekir to Olympique Lyon less than six years ago.

He's a genius that Gérard Bonneau. A financial guru. How could you argue otherwise? Lyon's chief dealmaker has managed to turn €1,000 into (potentially) €70m - and inside six years. Making the rise of Fekir all the more remarkable is that he's actually an OL reject! They dumped him at 15. Now, at 24, and with England's biggest clubs queuing up to buy him, Fekir will leave Lyon again - but this time as their record transfer.

"We recruited Nabil at 13 years," recalled Bonneau recently. "But two years later, when he had played little because of physical problems, the decision was made to release him.

"Then one day, Stéphane Roche (a former OL youth director) came to see me saying that we were missing an attacking midfielder. I suggested Nabil Fekir, who was 18 years old. He was playing for Saint-Priest, was doing well and beginning to interest some clubs, including Saint-Etienne.

"This is when we decided to take him back. For Nabil, it was simply a case of €1,000 for his registration. Now he shines in L1. It's unbelievable."

It broke on Sunday that OL and Liverpool had settled on a fee for Fekir - €60m. And though the story has since been denied on both sides of Channel, the deal hasn't been ruled out. Jurgen Klopp, the Liverpool manager, and OL president Jean Michel Aulas both keeping the door ajar. Negotiations are definitely rumbling on.

But the canny Aulas hasn't handed Liverpool exclusivity. He's also spoken to Chelsea representatives this week, while Manchester United made their interest known last month. We've learned United asked Aulas directly about Fekir's availability - and also fitness reports. The midfielder suffered a serious cruciate injury almost three years ago.

OL staff insist this season's exploits are proof enough Fekir has long recovered from that 2015 setback. Indeed confidants believe the injury was the making of the France international.

Kémil Sebaa, who played with Fekir at Saint-Priest, says: "He turned this injury into something positive.

"It allowed him to rebalance his body, with a lot of work done in the abs. Before, he was a bit like a bull but his power is now put to the benefit of his technique. You can see that he now can resist the pressure of defenders of over 6ft tall."

Indeed, Fekir's former coach at Saint-Priest, Robert Mouangue, believes the footballer we see today was formed by those early setbacks. Rejection by OL at 15. A major knee injury at 21. The determination to work his way back from two such career blows now has Fekir a France international and OL captain.

"Whatever happens to him does not surprise me," says Mouangue. "He's a brave guy. At the end of his season with us in Saint-Priest, Saint-Etienne offered him a trainee contract of three years. He made the toughest choice by returning for only one season, with no more guarantees, to OL, who had not kept him at 15 years of age.

"Nothing is due to chance in his career. At 20, he was still nothing. He works and he will always fight to get to the top. He had already forged a character but his serious injury reminded him of where he came from and made him stronger."

Bruno Genesio, the OL coach, recognised that character last summer, naming Fekir club captain after Maxime Gonalons' departure for AS Roma. Despite his youth, Genesio knew this was no gamble. And the decision has been rewarded with Fekir thriving under the responsibility and producing career best form.

"Of course I do not remember a barker," laughs Mouangue. "He spoke only with his feet (at Saint-Priest), but his journey made him mature and pushed him to speak."

Sebaa, now playing for little Bords de Saone, goes further.

"I remember at the time, many doubted that (Zinedine) Zidane could be captain of France. In both cases, they are technical leaders who make their teammates want to win the ball and give it to them. So it is also this symbolic armband, combined with his new central position (unlike last season), which has made the Fekir we're now seeing."

It is the positional switch made by Genesio which is being credited for Fekir's improvement. The OL coach has stopped playing his captain on a wing and instead has him sit behind his two strikers.

Said Mehamha, a good friend and former OL teammate, says: "This is his favorite position. It's not that he does not want to play on the wing, but he knows he brings a lot more to the team by being in the middle. Feeling the confidence of the club has given him a lift."

But it does appear OL fans are now seeing the final days of Fekir in their shirt. Even former France coach Raymond Domenech, always so vocal about Ligue 1 retaining their best players, accepts this summer is the right time to cash in.

"Lyon are a big club," says Domenech. "But when we listen to what Nabil Fekir says, it's possible that he leaves. Is this the right moment for him? Yes. He wants to go and play in the Champions League with a big club."

For Mouangue, whether it's Liverpool, Chelsea or anyother elite club, Fekir will be capable of making the next step. No-one following the midfielder this season has yet seen his very best...

"He has gained more power, he's super strong when in possession," says Fekir's former mentor. "He has this speed, a virtuoso ability on the ball. But there's more.

"Nabil Fekir has not revealed everything yet."


Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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