Marcos Lopes – Lille Loan Review
In Esteemed Kompany is a MCFC blog dedicated to the EDS and Academy games.
The third in this series of loan reviews following on from pieces on Jordy Hiwula and Seko Fofana.
This time it’s the turn of Marcos Lopes. In the eyes of many he’s arguably the true shining light of our current academy set up. Last season’s EDS captain and current u20 Portugese youth international, Lopes is highly thought of at the Etihad. Explosive, powerful and pacy, possessing that Aguero-like low centre of gravity that makes a player impossibly hard to shrug off the ball. He has a wicked left foot too and an eye for a goal. He’s talented, basically. Very. The kind of player with the ability to launch a thousand YouTube compilation videos.
After acquitting himself well last season during his brief run outs with the first team, notably in the Capital One League cup against West Ham last season where he set up two, it only seemed natural that a year out on loan would be his next move. The club sent him across the channel to France’s Ligue 1 and LOSC Lille, a club well versed in precocious attacking talent. They oversaw the development of Eden Hazard and Yohan Cabaye in particular, both stars in France before they eventually hopped on a ferry to the Premier League.
I spoke to Andrew Gibney, both a frequent attender of City academy games and a devoted Lille fan, about Lopes’ time at Lille. He’s also the editor of the truly excellent French Football Weekly too – in a nut shell, there’s no one more fitting.
Q. The immediately obvious one – how has Lopes done this season? Has the loan been a success?
Andrew – From his very first appearance on the opening day against Metz, Lopes has caught the attention of the Lille fans. He is exactly the type of player Lille missed. When he gets on the ball he wants to make things happen, and you can see that in his directness. It is a shame that his time was cut short by the two injuries, but you could see enough that he is a special talent. That’s what frustrated the most, he really changed the dynamic of the team when he was able to play.
Q. What’s the perception of his potential as a player within France/Lille?
Andrew – The Lille fans love him, everyone at the club likes what he brings to the team and there would be no hesitation to see him return to France next season.
Q. His best position? Obvious flaws/strengths?
Andrew – He is a No.10. He drifts into space, whether that be wide or through the centre. You need to give him creative licence though, similar to David Silva. If you try to constrain him, you won’t get the best out of him. When Lopes has been available, Lille has played 4-3-1-2 – a midfield diamond, with Lopes at the tip. It has worked really well when he has been fit. He can go missing from games, but that’s indicitve to that type of player. All it takes is a few flashes, a moment of brilliance and he changes the game. There are no real weaknesses in his game. In England he would be asked to track back more and work for the team. That’s not needed in France, he’s allowed the freedom to wait in the pockets of space.
Q. There’s a sense that Lille have become a little defensive this year and that perhaps lopes would flourish in a more attack minded team. Fair?
Andrew – Not really. Lille played a counter-attacking style. The defensive appearances comes from the lack of talent upfront. When Lopes played, the diamond was really effective. Him and Origi struck up a good partnership together. If Lopes hadn’t missed so many games, the Belgian would have scored more goals.
Q. Do you think city will utilise the loan link up with Lille again?
Andrew – It would be nice to see more of City’s youngster at Lille. It helps the club and benefits the players. When you look at the players Lille has developed in recent years (Digne, Cabaye, Debuchy, Hazard) it is a good place to learn your trade. I would love to see Olivier Ntcham or Thierry Ambrose at the Stade Pierre Mauroy in the next few seasons. However, this could be a one-time move. Lopes agent is Mikkel Beck – as well as at Middlesborough, Beck played at Lille and is still a regular around the club.
Q. How does he compare to Hazard in his first season at lille?
Andrew – It’s a difficult comparison. Hazard played as a forward in Lille’s 4-3-3 and was allowed the freedom of the pitch next to some excellent players. The team Hazard played in was miles better than the current squad. The Belgian is more nimble, agile and there is more finesse in his movement. Lopes has amazingly quick feet like Hazard, but his style is more direct and bullish. At the same age, Hazard finished that season with five goals and eight assists, but Lille scored 29 more goals and finished fourth not eighth Lopes has that same anticipation when he has the ball at his feet, but in direct comparisons, his teammate Sofiane Boufal is more Hazard-esque than Lopes.
Q. Does he remind you of anyone stylistically?
Andrew – I’ve been racking my brain and I can’t think of a player that Lopes is a direct comparison to. He has elements of Hazard, David Silva, even Alexis Sanchez and Carlos Tevez. He is quite unique. He combines speed, agility and finesse with a direct style. Lopes is definitely someone to get excited about.
Q. Do you personally think he has a chance? Would you use him if you were Pellegrini next season – I.e do city need a player like him? Or another loan move?
Andrew – He definitely has a chance, but he is not ready yet. There is no point in brining him back to City to be a bench player and maybe get 5-10 minutes off the bench. Another loan deal, especially because of the injuries, would see him come on leaps and bounds. He still has a lot to learn, but you are only going to learn that from playing week in, week out.
It’s hard not to get carried away when discussing the potential of a player like Marcos Lopes. He theoretically has everything. Goals, pace, skill, drive and that rare ability to conjure up something special out of nothing. He classifies as home-grown too – he’s a frightening talent on the surface of things and one that would easily demand £10m plus already to a buyer. Double that if he was English. You’d guess he would at very least reach the level of someone like Jesus Navas and that isn’t something to be shirked at. Navas isn’t world class, but he’s a champions league player and the big fishes we take from smaller ponds tend to come with a pretty hefty price tag, but it’s usually a necessary outlay – we still need those reliable dependable squad players. It would just help if every one of them didn’t cost around £15m. This is where someone Lopes should prove his worth – he should reach that level, if not higher, meaning we have a squad player for free and one that with a little bit of luck could potentially be a star.
The academy should help remove the need to spend huge amounts of money on talented but admittedly limited players like Fernando, Milner or Clichy. It should fill the holes in future squads leaving money aside for genuine A-listers, and maybe, just maybe, produce the odd Silva or Aguero along the way. Lopes ticks at least one of those boxes, and that’s exciting. He’s the first, in my opinion, that seems an almost guarantee to benefit the first team – hopefully opening the door for many others to follow too. On the flip-side, however, he is only very young still at nineteen and its worth noting that he did struggle a little towards the end of his loan spell at Lille. That’s to be expected of any youngster, especially one making his first strides as a professional. Football’s a tough game, Ligue 1 in particular, but there’s nowhere tougher than the Premier League and it’s possible he could struggle. Instinctively, I’d say he could handle it now, and with Milner, Lampard and Jovetic (and possibly more) all looking likely to leave we do need a replacement – he seems a natural fit, it’s not hard to imagine him at least having some kind of impact. But it’d also be a fair conclusion if the club decided it is perhaps a year too early for him – maybe another loan somewhere would be in his best interests. The optimist in me would like him to stay, but I trust City with this one. Either way, I fully expect he’ll be a big part of the future at City.