FEATURE | From failure at Aston Villa to a French national team call-up – Jordan Amavi’s glorious return to Ligue 1

It’s only been nine months since Jordan Amavi quit Aston Villa for a return to French football with Marseille. In his first full season back in his native country, Amavi has developed into one of the best players in his position across the whole of Ligue 1.A prediction that Villa probably could have made, having dispensed with €11m to prise him away from Nice in the summer of 2015.

A rather unfortunate long-term injury put paid to any decent trajectory the left-back may have had in his first season at Villa Park, while an unassuming and disjointed second spell perhaps convinced the Villa hierarchy to split with a player who perhaps may not have been the same after a terrible ACL lay-off.

If that’s the case, how wrong they were. While many expected Amavi to make a statement in his first season back in Ligue 1, few imagined such a successful impact in a Marseille side themselves keen to make up for lost time after two years in the doldrums.

There was of course no secret about Marseille’s interest, first announced around Christmas 2016. For one reason or another the left-back did not join the south-coast club, reportedly out of respect for his former employers as well as OM being put off by Dr. Tony Xia’s rather absurd £25m price-tag claims.

While OM moved on to secure a deal for Patrice Evra (more on that later), Amavi would later join seven months later in the form of a season-long loan with a €10m option to buy at the end of the 2017-18 season. Such was his positive start to life at Marseille, it was reported by L’Équipe that the deal had already been made permanent after eight games back in October 2017.

Though it didn’t all start smoothly for Amavi, who jumped straight into the side after his arrival from Birmingham. A rather nervy debut performance in the 1-1 draw against Angers was followed up by a roundly disappointing 1-6 defeat to champions Monaco. Rudi Garcia took inspiration from Amavi’s time at Villa and fielded the 24-year-old further afield in a left-wing position in front of a five-man defence. It worked hopelessly and was never repeated.

It was a match plagued by such horrendous errors that Garcia left Amavi on the bench for the next game against Rennes at Stade Vélodrome. OM suffered another surprise reverse, going down 1-3 at home with Amavi’s replacement Evra earning the dubious honour of being the worst player on the field. Once more, the tables had turned, with Garcia opting to field the more dynamic Amavi who at least, was less likely to commit basic defensive errors than his older team-mate.

The door was open for Amavi to make an impact, and the 24-year-old did not pass it up. One is able to argue that the left-back enjoyed his best football in the winter. In 13 league games following that Rennes defeat, Amavi featured in 12, being on the losing team just once and playing all but five minutes.

He performed admirably in the stunning 4-2 win over Nice, picking up two assists in the 3-3 draw against Strasbourg as well as a rather stirring 90 minutes against Paris Saint-Germain, though in the latter he was fortunate to have escaped a penalty appeal after a superb tackle on Kylian Mbappé was followed by a loss of composure and a silly hand-ball which had gone unnoticed.

Meanwhile, Amavi was emboldened by Evra’s continuing downward spiral. In a game against Lille in which the 24-year-old was suspended, Evra was once more singled out for his defensive fragility with fans demanding for other options. They got their wish when the former Manchester Utd captain kicked out at a supporter and subsequently was dismissed from the club.

Marseille did not bother to sign a replacement for Evra, leaving Amavi as the sole left-back for the entirety of a season that lasted 62 games across four competitions that also included a Europa League final. Garcia was emboldened by a player who he labelled as a “bet for the future” with Amavi having enjoyed a more than satisfactory first half of the campaign.

He scored his first goal for the club in the first week of January in the Coupe de France, a 1-0 extra-time triumph over Valenciennes, though further progress was halted when a torn muscle injury put him out for over a month. OM did not exactly miss him however, winning four of the five games with the versatile Hiroki Sakai proving to be a competent understudy.

Amidst the strong development at club-level, Amavi was also handed a surprise call-up to the France national team. Though it was via the absences of Benjamin Mendy and Lucas Digne, the positive comments from Didier Deschamps who recognised his efforts in a convincing season did enough to bookend a stunning return after two years of difficulty.

Despite a dynamic season by all accounts, one can argue that Amavi has somewhat stepped off the gas towards the end of the campaign. While rousing and emotive results in the Europa League, particularly against RB Leipzig may gloss over any individual mediocrity, there has been a noticeable drop in work-rate. Whether that is down to an unusually long season for Marseille or a lack of competition and thus incentive to impress on Amavi’s part is hard to say.

Nevertheless, it has overall been a successful return to French football. Amavi has consistently ranked alongside Lyon’s Ferland Mendy and Montpellier’s Jérôme Roussillon as one of the star left-backs of the season.

A dynamic and attack-minded left-back, Amavi has slotted in superbly in the Marseille team. A highly regarded squad player, lauded by captain Dimitri Payet, Florian Thauvin and Adil Rami, he has been a successful punt at just €10m.

Currently regarded as a more complete left-back than PSG’s Kurzawa, he will be hoping to dislodge the likes of Mendy, Digne and Lucas Hernandez for a spot in a highly competitive French squad following the World Cup in Russia.



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