‘Whatever happened’ to Bruno Cheyrou?

Bruno CheyrouThe ‘new Zidane’ was the tag that Gerard Houllier gave Bruno Cheyrou when he first moved to Anfield. It was to be a lofty expectation that the young Frenchman would not live up to. Cheyrou started out his footballing career at Lens before moving to Lille, where he had a very successful four year spell in which he scored against Manchester United in the Champions League. At the end of the 2001/2002 season, after scoring 15 goals in all competitions, speculation was rife that he would be moving to a bigger club. Lyon were very interested in this exciting French prospect, but Liverpool under Houllier beat them to the signing.

Cheyrou was hailed by Gerard Houllier as the ‘new Zidane,’ it was a tag that was a heavy burden to take for the young Frenchman, one he never shook off. All seemed promising at the start of his Liverpool career in 2002/2003 season. He made his debut against Arsenal in the FA Community Shield in a 1-0 defeat and then impressed a full home ground in a friendly against Lazio. Even before his full home league debut against Southampton, he had earned his first French cap and expectations were high about his future at the club. He won a penalty in his five minute cameo against the Saints but his first start for the club against Bolton at the Reebok stadium gave a greater indication of what was to come from Cheyrou. He seemed to want too much time on the ball and found it hard to keep up with the pace of the Premier League.

He subsequently only finished the full 90 minutes in 4 games during his first season at the club and many believed his attributes did not fit the English game. He still scored his first goal for the club in a Champions League tie against Spartak Moscow in a 5-0 victory, but moments of inspiration were fleeting for the midfielder throughout the season. He was in and out of the team and never really settled. His displays came in for severe criticism as Liverpool failed to qualify for the Champions League as many in the media began to sharpen their knifes for Houllier.

Despite adding the likes of Harry Kewell in the close season before the 2003/2004 campaign, Houllier elected to start Cheyrou against Chelsea in the first game of the campaign but he went off with a foot injury early in the second half. He would not be seen for five months until an FA Cup third round tie against Yeovil, and with injuries hampering many players, Cheyrou started for the second time against Chelsea in the season. It was a great performance by an injury ravaged Liverpool and Cheyrou had his most memorable moment in a Reds shirt as he scored the winner in a 1-0 win which gave Liverpool their first victory at Stamford Bridge for 15 years. The strike led Cheyrou to go on a purple patch for the rest of the season; he scored against Wolves before having his best game for Liverpool, scoring two goals in a 2-1 victory in the FA Cup against Newcastle.

Fortune was not on Cheyrou’s side however as Houllier was sacked at the end of the season. New manager Rafa Benitez made the Frenchman surplus to requirements at Anfield and he went on subsequent loan spells to Marseille and Bordeaux. He did not impress enough for permanent deals on either occasion and returned to Liverpool. He was finally sold to Rennes back in his native France in the summer of 2006. He also had a difficult beginning at the French club, and reverted to playing defensive midfield. His second season during the 2007/2008 season was even worse as coach Guy Lacombe moved him back further into central defence. The move into the backline did not last long however and last season, the best of Cheyrou began to be seen again. Playing in a more withdrawn holding midfield role, he played an important part in Rennes’s run to the French Cup final. Now aged 31 Cheyrou is now one of the leaders in midfield, happy to play between midfield and defence or roaming a bit further forward. He still is technically gifted and has good left foot, but he was never destined to be the “new Zidane” as Houllier infamously denoted him as.