Is Nabil Fekir ready to become the heir to Zinedine Zidane's France throne?
One of the greatest goals scored in Europe so far this season came in August. Lyon playmaker Nabil Fekir received the ball near the halfway line and stunned Bordeaux goalkeeper Benoit Costil by sending it into the net with a shot that kept rising and rising. It was a sensational effort that was even more remarkable considering it came from Fekir's weaker right foot.
It was a shot reminiscent of Zinedine Zidane's goal for Bordeaux in 1995 that also came from an outrageous distance off his weaker left foot. It was scored in the UEFA Cup fixture against Real Betis, and "Zizou" was inspirational in the journey to the final.
It is only natural that Fekir is drawing comparisons to Zidane. Fekir is a playmaker of Algerian descent with silky ball skills and phenomenal vision. France has been in love with Lyon's midfielder ever since his dazzling breakthrough season in 2014-15, when he took Ligue 1 by storm with 13 goals and nine assists.
"Nabil is an incredible player. He impressed me technically," said Zidane two years ago. The Real Madrid manager reportedly considered signing the midfielder last summer.
"If Zizou called, I would be there tomorrow. I'd never turn him down," Fekir claimed.
Real have sent scouts to watch Fekir on numerous occasions, and yet he is a self-confessed Barcelona fan, who openly dreams of moving to Camp Nou.
Fekir's ability to dictate the tempo and find space could make him a potential replacement for Andres Iniesta, but that was not an option this year. Indeed, while most of the Lyon stars moved for pastures new in the summer, Fekir remained at the club. Alexandre Lacazette finally joined Arsenal, Corentin Tolisso became Bayern Munich's record signing, and even veteran captain Maxime Gonalons left for Roma. When coach Bruno Genesio gave the armband to Fekir, it cemented his status as Lyon's leader.
There are two main reasons for Fekir's loyalty.
Firstly, he is deeply in love with Lyon. Born in the city, he has supported the club ever since he can remember, and was proud to join the academy at 12. A major setback happened two years later when he was released for not being strong enough. Fekir, who also had Osgood-Schlatter disease (a painful growth beneath the knee), didn't let the blow affect him.
He went back to the tiny Vaulx-en-Velin club, where his father serves as vice president, in order to prove himself. Fekir continued to Saint-Priest and played lower division games on awful pitches, where his talent stood out. Scouts from all over the country came to watch the youngster.
At one point Saint Etienne -- Lyon's local rivals -- were very keen to sign him. Some would have loved to have a chance to exact such sweet revenge, but not Fekir. He patiently waited for the only club he wanted to play for.
"I wanted to show them that they made a mistake," he said.
Secondly, some clubs were reluctant to gamble on Fekir because he missed most of the 2015-16 season with torn knee ligaments. Arsenal and Manchester City were mentioned as potential suitors before the injury. Fekir suffered his setback on his very first (and only) start for France -- a friendly against Portugal in September 2015.
His selection for the national team became a long and emotional saga. At a certain stage, the midfielder was said to be thinking of playing for Algeria. FA president Mohamed Raouraoua even claimed that Fekir informed coach Christian Gourcuff of his decision, but that proved to be incorrect. Like Zidane, he went for the blue shirt, aspiring to play at Euro 2016. That dream ended in cruel circumstances, and it remains to be seen whether Fekir would regret putting his international future in Didier Deschamps' hands.
France have extraordinary depth as far as forwards, wingers and central midfielders are concerned. But they don't really have another playmaker like Fekir. The Lyon star is unique in that respect, but it is far from certain whether the system should be adjusted to suit him, and Deschamps hasn't shown interest to do so. Fekir spent the World Cup qualifying campaign on the bench, and was omitted from the squad ahead of the October matches.
Apparently, the coach wasn't satisfied with his contribution in the goalless draw against Luxembourg when the midflielder was used as a late substitute for Antoine Griezmann.
"When you come into the game, you should bring a little extra," Deschamps explained, even though it is difficult to judge any player on just nine minutes on the pitch.
Without Fekir, France's play was hardly convincing, even though they secured marginal victories against Bulgaria and Belarus to qualify for next summer's World Cup in Russia.
Deschamps' decision was extremely controversial, because Fekir is in rich form. He is arguably on par with his sensational performances in 2014-15. He was a bit inconsistent last season, but this term, with five goals and three assists already, Fekir has contributed to half of Lyon's tally in Ligue 1, and sparkled in Europa League as well.
"I made an effort to be better physically," he claimed in the summer, and it shows. Being named captain has also made him more responsible and mature as a person.
Continuity is needed in order to convince Deschamps to take him to the World Cup, while winning a dream move to Barcelona or Real Madrid next summer is not out of question either.
Fekir is ready to flourish, reminding everyone he could be capable of becoming Zidane's heir. On Friday, in Lyon's big game against Monaco, all eyes should be on him.
Michael Yokhin is ESPN FC's European football writer. Follow him on Twitter: @Yokhin