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Son of a great tennis player, earthquake in Morocco, Barcelona... 5 things to know about Neil El Aynaoui, revelation from RC Lens

Until his transfer to RC Lens last June (for 600,000 euros), Neil El Aynaoui learned all his classes within the legendary club of his hometown, AS Nancy Lorraine.

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Son of a great tennis player, earthquake in Morocco, Barcelona... 5 things to know about Neil El Aynaoui, revelation from RC Lens

Until his transfer to RC Lens last June (for 600,000 euros), Neil El Aynaoui learned all his classes within the legendary club of his hometown, AS Nancy Lorraine. The Franco-Moroccan joined the training center at the age of 8 to climb the ranks to the first team. After his professional debut in Ligue 2 during the 2021-2022 financial year, and a first goal scored against Paris FC, he established himself as a starter the following year following the relegation of ASNL to the National. “Neil, this is a gift for a coach. He stayed with us to bring the club back up. He’s someone who is loyal,” said Albert Cartier, Nancy’s coach last season. The Lorraine club did not return to Ligue 2 but snatched its stay in the third division at the last minute. Partly thanks to the talent of El Aynaoui, who is now shining with the Sang et Or.

It's a name that people under 20 may not know. Well before Neil's prowess in Ligue 1, his father, Younès El Aynaoui, also distinguished himself during a sporting career between 1990 and 2008. Far from the pitch and the crampons, the Moroccan kicked the yellow ball on the tennis courts. 14th in the ATP world in 2002, his best ranking, he won five titles and notably reached the quarter-final stage at the Australian Open. It was January 22, 2003 during a match that became memorable against Andy Roddick. At the end of the longest 5th set in the history of the Melbourne Grand Slam (2h23), El Aynaoui lost against the American (6-4, 6-7, 6-4, 4-6, 19- 21) before reaching the quarters of a Major again, a few months later at the US Open. Now 52 years old, Neil's father has not left the professional circuit since he coaches Frenchman Hugo Gaston. And obviously closely follows the trajectory of his son with the ball at his feet.

His tennis champion father, the young Lensois could have followed in his footsteps but was instead contaminated by the passion for football, developed in Spain at the time when La Roja began its hegemony with its title at Euro 2008. “We lived in Barcelona for my training, but there, the guys only live for football, Younès El Aynaoui told the newspaper l'Équipe. It was logical that he was interested in football. I immediately saw that he never got tired. He spent his weekends playing football. Licensed for a year in the Catalan club CF Gava (2008-2009), before moving to Nancy, the relay midfielder therefore found his way on the other side of the Pyrenees. A stay which undoubtedly explains its technical quality and its precision in the pass…

Possessing a dual French and Moroccan passport, Neil El Aynaoui made his first selection with Olympic Morocco on September 7 during a victory (1-0) against Olympic Brazil. Coming into play in the 89th minute, the Lensois thought he would get more minutes four days later against the same opponent, in Fez. But in the meantime, on the night of September 8 to 9, the terrible earthquake hitting his country forced the cancellation of the meeting. “I was in my hotel room, after playing against Brazil the day before. Suddenly, I saw the TV in my room start to move, it even almost fell, recalled the young international, interviewed by the Team. I went out to try to understand what was happening, it was panic. I never thought I would experience such a disaster for my first selection.” Recalled with the Atlas Lions U23s in October, the 22-year-old native hopes to play in the Paris Olympic Games next summer. With his current performances, he is in any case giving himself the right to dream.

Arriving this summer in the shadow of Andy Diouf and Nampalys Mendy, number 23 of RC Lens is gaining ground week after week. His trainer Franck Haise initially used him sparingly, offering him a few entries into the game here and there. Until his first start which took place during the 12th day of Ligue 1 and the reception of Olympique de Marseille at the Bollaert stadium. At the heart of the deep boredom of the meeting (won 1-0 by Lens), the native of Nancy did not miss his meeting. “He is remarkable in training. At one point, I had to give him the opportunity to express himself from the start of a match. I have confidence in him and he lived up to expectations,” said Haise at the final whistle. He had a great game defensively and offensively. He showed a lot of personality. He has been working well for a very long time, his entries are good. It’s normal that he gets his chance.”

A chance perfectly seized by El Aynaoui, in the wake of his first goal scored off the bench against FC Nantes (4-0). Still radiant on Saturday in Clermont (3-0), the Lensoise revelation now has an appointment at the Emirates Stadium to challenge Arsenal in the Champions League (this Wednesday 9 p.m.). A new important step in his very promising start to his career.

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