Ones to Watch; 2022-23 | Number 3: Johann Lepenant

The 19-year-old SM Caen youth academy graduate has hit the ground running at French giants Olympique Lyonnais after a sensational breakout season in Normandie in 2021-22 which led to his summer arrival

In a football world filled with countless stars of today, so many of us are curious about who is waiting in the wings. That search for that next wunderkind; a youngster that has the potential to make us stand up and marvel at how they are masters of their craft despite their tender age, is always on the minds of millions of fans around the world.

With this in mind, we at 101 Great Goals continue our weekly series that takes a look at U21 players across the world during the 2022-23 season. Some of them you will have no doubt heard of, while we hope to bring you a few new names to spark your curiosities every now and then.

Name: Johann Lepenant

Age: 19

Position: Defensive Midfield

Place of Birth: Granville, France

Citizenship: France

National team caps: 9 (U-20)

Current club: Olympique Lyonnais

Current Market Value (per Transfermarkt): €5m (£4m)

Potential suitor(s): N/A (summer signing from SM Caen)

Few nations can stand toe to toe with France in the realm of youth development across the entire period of football in Europe in the post-war era. Better still, few clubs in Europe can hold a candle to development wizards Olympique Lyonnais.

Nestled in the Rhône river valley in an ancient region once focused around the civic center of Lugdunum that would prosper due to its key strategic location to the Romans while also becoming one of the world’s premier locations for wine production, the city of Lyon has given birth to - or been the adopted father of - an incredible list of young players that have developed into footballers that would dazzle at the highest levels on the continent.

With a veritable laundry list consisting of names like Karim Benzema, Alexandre Lacazette, Hatem Ben Arfa, Nabil Fekir, Alassane Pléa, Corentin Tolisso, Anthony Martial, Houssem Aouar, Amine Gouiri, Maxence Caqueret, Rayan Cherki, Melvin Bard, Malo Gusto, and Pierre Kalulu, OL is at the forefront of youth production and development.

Another player that looks set to massively benefit from an education in the gastronomic capital of France is 19-year-old Johann Lepenant.

Unlike the countless names above that directly came through the ranks at OL, Lepenant received his formal education in Normandie at regional institution Stade Malherbe Caen for three years between the ages of 15 and 18 after first setting off on his journey with hometown club Union Sportive Granville.

After three years at the club, while also appearing for Caen B in the opening stages of the 2020-21 season, Lepenant would break into the first team setup at the Stade Michel d’Ornano while going on to make 21 appearances with 19 coming in Ligue 2 while laying a marker down for things to come.

The following year during the 2021-22 season, Lepenant - then just a bright-eyed 18-year-old - had already earned the trust of experienced manager Stéphane Moulin, who spent ten seasons at Angers SCO while knowing a thing or two about bringing young players through the fold.

Lepenant benefitted massively and to critical acclaim during last season’s campaign, making 35 appearances in the league and solidifying his position as the club’s first-choice holding midfielder despite only reaching his nineteenth birthday in October of 2021.

Such was his breakout performance for Caen that OL came calling this summer and eventually secured a full deal for the French youth international for a paltry €4.25m and signed on to terms with the club for five years in what could end up being one of the signings of the summer in Ligue 1.

As a deep-sitting playmaker behind a central midfield pair of Corentin Tolisso and Lucas Paqueta, Lepenant has already proven to be a command-and-control wizard for Les Gones under manager Peter Bosz, completing an impressive 92.7% (according to fbref.com) of his passes in OL’s two Ligue 1 fixtures this season.

The French U20 midfielder has also proven to be an adept presser (16.1 pressures/90min) as well as being unafraid to get stuck in (2.67 tackles/90min), and though he sits deepest in a midfield three, is still capable of registering shot-creating actions (1.67/90min), and goal-creating actions (0.56/90min).

Having already displaced the highly-touted Caqueret in the heart of the OL midfield so early this season, Lepenant seems primed to explode this season for one of the top clubs in France.

Rumored to have already caught the eye of Real Madrid before his move to Lyon this summer, it may not be before long that OL once again watches a talented youngster depart the club for a sizable purse while they go on to even bigger things.

But for Johann Lepenant, he has already exhibited all the tools of the trade to become one of the next darlings of Lyon in short order.

For more from Ones to Watch, check out the links below

Number 1: Destiny Udogie

Number 2: Khvicha Kvaratskhelia

Andrew Thompson

US-based Football writer. German football guru with a wealth of experience in youth development and analysis. Data aficionado. Happily championing the notion that Americans have a knowledgeable voice in the beautiful game.

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