Olympique Lyonnais kicked off their Ligue 1 campaign last Sunday with a frustrating 0-0 draw with relegation candidates FC Lorient. Fans of Tottenham Hotspur had one eye on Hubert Fournier’s team news and were given reason for excitement when latest transfer target, Clinton N’Jie, wasn’t named in the match-day squad.
Les Gones reported that the forward had a knock, but in this age of constant speculation, it meant only one thing – the Cameroonian must be on his way to White Hart Lane.
Not one to skirt around the issue, and never short of a quote, Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas had kept everyone informed along the way.
On Wednesday afternoon, the outspoken owner, speaking on French radio station RMC, thanked Daniel Levy for finally making a decent offer for N’Jie – giving everyone a clear update that a deal was imminent.
Lyon were reported to be holding out for €15 million plus bonuses, but Spurs look to have found a compromise for around an initial €14 million – and it’s a deal that will suit both sides at the table.
Back in 2012 when Lyon sold Hugo Lloris to the London club for €10 million plus bonuses, the French side were in financial dire straits and had to sell to balance the books, putting them in a position of weakness – helping Spurs to agree a cut-price deal for France’s No.1 goalkeeper.
The fact that Aulas has found an agreement that will see his club receive a hefty fee for a raw, untested, 22-year-old forward, shows just how far they have come in the past three years.
Last season, playing an XI that consisted mainly of players brought through their academy was evidence of the direction club had taken. Gone were the days of spending €24 million on the likes of Yoann Gourcuff, with the emphasis now set on developing their own talents.
Blessed with a number of emerging stars, it was always likely that Lyon would be willing to sell someone to help them buy reinforcements and keep the others at the Stade Gerland. As expected, Alexandre Lacazette signed his new deal before the opening game, following the lead from five of his teammates. This left N’Jie as one of Lyon’s last sellable assets.
In his first full season, N’Jie had undoubtedly impressed.
Playing upfront in Lyon’s 4-3-1-2 formation, he would add pace, width and a lethal direct style that Ligue 1 defenders struggled to cope with. During the first half of the season, three of N’Jie’s first four assists came from the bench, and he was a superb option as teams began to tire – defenders struggle to keep up with him at the start of the match, never mind with 30 minutes to go.
"It's always a pleasure to score goals and make assists because that's what defines my game. A truly breakthrough season for me and I am really delighted how it's turned out," N’Jie told BBC Sport.
He would go on to start six of the last nine games and proved he could play a huge role for the club – scoring four and adding another two assists.
It’s too easy to describe the Cameroon international as a winger, as he is much more comfortable being allowed to play all along the final third. Playing off the shoulder of the last defender, when he times his runs well, he is untouchable.
He has shown for club and country that he can finish in the big games and is just as willing to create as he is to look for his own opportunities.
Against Reims at the end of last season, N’Jie kept wide on the right to deliver a pin-point cross for Lacazette, but then timed a run from back post to deftly finish off a cross from the right.
That was the perfect example of his abilities all over the pitch – the danger for Spurs is keeping him wide on the flank and asking him to defend and protect the full-backs.
Going forward, he would work well in Mauricio Pochettino’s 4-2-3-1 – but he would need to be given the option to find his own space and drift along the line, even playing in-between the lines and running off Harry Kane’s hold-up play.
Born in Beau, one of Cameroon’s English-speaking provinces, N’Jie will have no issues adapting to the London lifestyle and English language. Blessed with searing pace and a strong physique, he should also be able to handle himself in the hustle and bustle of the Premier League – the only worrying variable will be how Spurs use him.
N’Jie is undeniably raw, but the upside has huge potential.
Lyon missed his spark and drive in their opening day draw, and used properly he could be the missing piece of Pochettino’s puzzle.