16-year-old Lille midfielder Bouaddi looks to follow in Hazard's footsteps

Thu, Mar 14, 2024
Soccer News (AP)

16-year-old Lille midfielder Bouaddi looks to follow in Hazard's footsteps

PARIS (AP) - When Eden Hazard visited his former club Lille during a French league game last weekend, it was a timely reminder of what the northern club did so well in the past.

Turning young players into future stars.

Next in line could be Ayyoub Bouaddi, a 16-year-old midfielder who has caught the eye and is being touted as Lille's best prospect since Hazard.

Hazard joined Lille's academy as a youth, made his league debut two months before his 17th birthday, then helped the club win the French league and cup double in 2011. A high-profile move to Chelsea turned him into a global star.

Hazard won the English Premier League and the Europa League twice during a spell where the Belgium midfielder was voted player of the year by his peers. At his peak, the attacking midfielder with lightning-quick feet and match-winning ability was among the world's best players.

So last Sunday, Lille inaugurated a new playing field at its vast Domaine de Luchin training complex, and named it " Eden Hazard " in his honor.

It's where Bouaddi hopes to tread his way to the top.

Bouaddi joined Lille's academy three years ago and, just three days after his 16th birthday, became the youngest player to appear in a European game in a Europa Conference League match last October against KI Klaksvik.

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Lining up with him that day for Lille was 18-year-old Amine Messoussa in attack, underlining the faith coach Paulo Fonseca has in young players.

Another is Leny Yoro, a tall and graceful central defender with excellent passing ability in the mould of Arsenal's William Saliba or former France captain RaphaŽl Varane.

Yoro joined Lille's academy when he was 11 and has made 49 club appearances. He's 18.

Europe's big clubs are chasing his signature and they will no doubt be watching Bouaddi more closely the further Lille goes in the Europa Conference League.

Last week, Bouaddi set up a goal for prolific striker Jonathan David in a 3-0 win at Sturm Graz in the first leg of their round-of-16 match. The return leg was later Thursday with a quarterfinal place Lille's to lose. Bouaddi has already made five appearances in the competition, with Fonseca easing him into the first team via European games.

But with Lille in fourth spot in Ligue 1 and pushing for a Champions League berth next season, Bouaddi might receive more starts in France.

On Sunday, Lille travels to second-placed Brest, where a victory for Lille would move it to within one point of its rival in the race for a Champions League place.

David was in fine form heading into that game, with his 14 league goals second only to Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe on 21. Without penalty kicks, Mbappe leads 15-13.

Leader PSG is 10 points clear of Brest and looks to snap a run of three draws with a win at Montpellier on Sunday.

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AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/Soccer

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