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Florian Thauvin (RMC)

FEATURE | Marseille return pays off for Florian Thauvin as he ascends to the France squad

Florian Thauvin’s dream of making the France squad remained just that mere months ago. At the start of the season, his career remained at a perilous juncture – a far cry from the talented, tenacious winger who won the U-20 FIFA World Cup in 2013 and was named in the Guardian’s top 10 talents of the future in the same year.

Names on that list also included esteemed young talent such as Romelu Lukaku, Marquinhos and Paul Pogba. While they have since made the jump to outstanding young players worthy of inflated transfer fees & global recognition, Thauvin’s own journey appeared ready to unravel.

A more or less decent 2014-15 campaign with Marseille gave way to a horrendous five-month stint at Newcastle in England. Aside from a sparkling debut against lower-league opposition, Thauvin only started four Premier League games – three of which came at the beginning of his NUFC career. Having struggled to adapt and made an unlikely target by Newcastle supporters in a relegation battle, the midfielder jumped at the first opportunity to return to Marseille the following January.

Of course, it is safe to assume that Thauvin did not want to join Newcastle in the first place, had it not been for Marseille’s pressing financial issues. You may recall a silent, pensive Thauvin after full-time at Reims in a game on August 2015 being told of a decision to accept an offer from England by president Vincent Labrune. Hardly the response of a player being told he will get a move to the so-called “best league in the world”.

From the get-go, the time in Newcastle never looked like transforming into something productive. A public rebuke from club legend Alan Shearer did little to help, nor did Steve McClaren’s tactical preferences. With tail firmly between his legs, Thauvin ended his English nightmare for the one place he felt he could make a difference – Marseille.

Indeed, it is this failure at Newcastle that has arguably propelled Thauvin to some of his best form ever. He was Marseille’s best outfield player last season when on loan in 2015-16, dragging his team-mates to league safety and a place in the Coupe de France final. He did not want to interrupt this new-found momentum and sought a full-time move back to his former employers. What struck a chord with Marseille’s notoriously hard-to-please supporters was his extreme willingness in doing so after agreeing a significant pay-cut. A lucrative move to Lazio in Italy was spurned.

The 24-year-old has not looked back since after given a chance at redemption. Franck Passi, then Marseille’s caretaker coach noted that despite Thauvin’s flaws, he remained a good player. “I went out of my way to bring him back. I made the staff see him as a great player. Per game, he creates at least two clear chances. But still, he needs to improve, he needs to lose less balls. He has the ability to play for France one day.”

Such backing has resonated with the Orleans native. He has redoubled his efforts in training, keen to make amends for a career that flirted with stagnation. Team-mates have spoken heavily of “FloTov” and his increased work-rate during matches. And most importantly, this has come across in matches.

Most importantly, Thauvin is performing simply because he is in a comfortable place, a place in which he adores & similarly feels appreciation. He was named Marseille’s player of the month five times out of the last eight months.

He has largely matured as a player, cutting out the unnecessary dribbling that has seen him easily lose possession in previous games. He works with the team with heightened vision & movement, rather than trying to achieve his own means.

There’s a certain humility in his play, which ironically – has led to his best career statistics to date. 10 goals and 6 assists in 29 games. Since December, he has really come into his own – with 5 goals from outside the box. No player in Europe has more, with only the great Lionel Messi matching that figure.

Thauvin is by no means the finished deal however. There still remain questions over consistency – particularly over long periods. Like Marseille in general, the 24-year-old fails to ignite against the big sides – he was largely absent in the league games against Lyon, PSG & Monaco, but a productive performer in the cup defeat against Leonardo Jardim’s men.

However, his renewed form has been enough for Didier Deschamps to call him up to the France squad today. It is certainly a milestone for a player who has fought to salvage his burgeoning career over the past 12 months.

With France particularly stacked in his position – Nabil Fékir, Kingsley Coman and Mathieu Valbuena were not called up – it is up to Thauvin to really kick on with this ascendancy and become an indispensable part of Marseille’s Champions Project.

Despite the challenges of the past, there remain huge admirers of the winger, not least Marcelo Bielsa who labelled him as “one of the players that has impressed me the most in my managerial career”. Current OM coach Rudi Garcia has challenged his player to go on and become a leader for Marseille, going as far as giving him the captain’s armband for the first time in January.

With all this support, it is imperative that Thauvin converts this into something tangible for club and country. He has done exceedingly well to save his career from the critical juncture it was at last summer, but must not stay idle – otherwise, his first appearance for France may well be his last for a while given the competition.

M.A.

 

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