Being compared to a World Cup and European Championship winner is difficult for any young footballer. Even more so when it is the player themselves inviting the comparisons.
When Goal asked versatile French defender Benjamin Pavard about the challenges of playing in a different position for France to his role at Stuttgart and how that would impact his international career, the 22-year-old referenced his country’s most-capped player, Lilian Thuram:
“Whether I play right, left or as a centre back, for me it’s a little bit the same,” Pavard told Goal .
“A defender must first defend well. Of course, as a left or right back, I have to attack more, but for me, it’s the same. I can play well in all these positions.
“The question could be asked, for sure, but for me it is not a problem. Before, there was Lilian Thuram who also played as a centre back in club and as a right back with the national team. I feel good as a central back, and I also enjoy to play at right. So why not do the same career as him?”
Thuram was just 24 when he scored two goals at the World Cup for France, netting twice in the semi-final comeback against Croatia before Les Bleus lifted the title on home soil with a 3-0 win in the final over Brazil.
These were the only two goals Thuram ever scored in a France jersey, despite appearing a record 142 times for his country. They are also goals that the ‘new Thuram’ does not recall from memory, having been just two-years-old when France won their last World Cup.
With just nine caps to his name so far, Pavard is a relative newcomer on the international scene, but already has written his name into France’s World Cup history, striking an unbelievable shot into the net against Argentina to help Didier Deschamps side knock Lionel Messi out and set up a quarter-final date with Urguay .
The last goal scored by a French defender at the World Cup before Pavard’s excellent finish? Thuram’s matchwinner in 1998.
Unlike Monaco graduate Thuram, Pavard’s emergence as an international star has not been a straightforward one. In the summer of 2016, the defender decided to turn his back on Ligue 1, having failed to win a regular first-team spot at Lille.
He took a risk by moving to Stuttgart, who were then in the German second tier, having been relegated from the Bundesliga the previous season. He missed their opening game of the 2016-17 campaign due to international duty with France Under-21s, watching from the bench as Corentin Tolisso scored twice in a 2-0 victory over Iceland.
Almost two years later, Tolisso scored Bayern Munich’s final goal of the season, as Pavard and Stuttgart stunned the Bundesliga champions 4-1 to help VfB complete a brilliant finale to their 2017-18 campaign, revitalised under new head coach Tayfun Korkut, who guided them to seventh in the table having taken over with the club two spots above relegation.
Before Korkut arrived, Pavard was deployed all across the defence for Stuttgart, as well as in defensive midfield and right midfield. Under the former Turkey international, Pavard became the club’s key central defender, playing every single minute of the season.