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FEATURE | Florian Thauvin – ugly duckling turned France’s best performing winger in 2017/18

Arrogant. Immature. Tuxedo.

Those are just some of the words that most would have used to describe Florian Thauvin as he re-joined Olympique de Marseille on loan two years ago.

Now? Superstar.

Life comes at you fast.

It still feels like yesterday that he was being lambasted as a petulant child, forcing a move to the Stade Velodrome having never kicked a ball for Lille after winning the Ligue 1 Young Player of the Year award at SC Bastia.

Or mere minutes have passed since he was being berated by the Geordie messiah Alan Shearer for wearing formal attire before Newcastle’s 2-0 defeat to West Ham United. He was a parody, a youngster too taken by the spotlight and desperate to be at the top of the tree as soon as he could.

The turning point? He realised what he had become and then began the road to recovery.

He still credits those moments of being labelled a ‘flop’ in England as something that helped him grow up. Now, Thauvin is aware that he tried to get too much done too quickly, which not only adversely affected his play on the field but his reputation off of it.

The move back to France was an opportunity to start over. No one thought it would be more that a quick pit-stop before heading elsewhere or a sign that he’d never reach the potential many thought he had.

He proved them all wrong.

It was a little bit of a shaky start, that second half to the 2015/16 season did not quite explode into life. Whether it was the team round him or Thauvin still picking up the pieces of his broken confidence, it was only the following season that he exploded.

It was almost like he was freed from the shackles that were binding him, dancing between defenders and unleashing finishes that only the best can produce. Finishing the season with 15 goals and eight assists, he was rightfully placed within the elite players that were plying their trade in Ligue 1.

Little were we to know, that was the matinee performance.

In the first half of the 2017/18 season, Thauvin already netted 13 goals and 10 assists. There’s only two players in Europe’s top five leagues with double digits in both categories, one being the best player in the world and the other costing an extra €200m than the 25-year-old.

Take a moment to read that again. That’s truly astonishing.

Endlessly positive, he is absolutely the driving force of the new Marseille. Always looking forward, driving into space and making something happen on a team that have revelled in those players for years but recently, have had very little to cheer.

A difference-maker, someone they can rely on to pull them out of the mire or give them that moment of real quality to earn them wins. Case and point, his marvellous run against Guingamp that won the game, jinking between the backline like they were cones in a training drill before driving it past the goalkeeper.

Or how about his goal against Paris Saint-Germain, with him the only one attacking the space in the box, giving Marseille hope they could beat the then-unbeaten league leaders? Or even recently, his three goals and an assist to blow away Metz at home?

Fans cling to those kinds of players but right now, Thauvin clings to them as well. He has brushed off interest from the likes of Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid, realising that it is more important to feel at home and playing than joining the elite of Europe.

“I’ve had a hard time getting back to the club and I feel good. The important thing is to play and have fun. I am doing that,” he told Canal + during the window, and who can argue with him?

Dimitri Payet was the statement signing of this “Champions Project” for L’OM but really, Thauvin is the lynchpin. Without him in the side, despite great performances this season from the likes of Luis Gustavo and Morgan Sanson, they wouldn’t be fighting for those Champions’ League places so soon.

Not only that, he has to be giving Les Bleus boss Didier Deschamps the biggest of headaches come the World Cup in the summer. Many thought it would be Ousmane Dembélé and Kylian Mbappé, the two expensive teenagers on the flanks for France or the likes of Thomas Lemar, Kingsley Coman, or Anthony Martial taking those spots.

Thauvin has contributed more than any of them, in arguably a weaker side than any of the others are playing in. So how good could he be in an incredibly strong French team? He must surely at least be on the plane and is doing everything that should give him a starting berth as well.

This should be an example to any young footballer out there. We know you want to be the best you can be and win everything as soon as you can but remember, sometimes feeling like you are wanted and having fun is just as important.

Do not rush. If you are good enough, it will come to you and the sooner you realise that, knuckle down and get on with it, you can realise your dreams, just like Thauvin.

A player reborn, the bad-boy-turned-good, your new king of Marseille.

N.S.

 

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