“Take advantage of your 20s”: an open letter to Florian Thauvin
On Thursday, Cédric Rouquette, editor-in-chief of eurosport.fr, published a superb open letter to Florian Thauvin, who is currently on strike and refusing to train with new club Lille, in order to engineer a move, preferably to Marseille. Cédric has kindly given us permission to translate and publish his letter:
This is the first time that I’m writing to you, but I suggest that we “tutoie” each other. I think that you were still in nursery school when I started this job. Your colleagues, of all ages and levels, can confirm that I’ve always worked this way with footballers. No formalities between us.
Of course, we don’t know each other. The only time I’ve had anything to do with you in the context of my work, other than commentaries on your performances, is when you stood up – twice – one of my journalists, who had travelled down to Corsica and had spotted your talent before it started being talked about on Telefoot. He warned us that your word was not worth much but, I admit, I never would have imagined you proving it to the whole of France with as much determination as you are currently showing.
Before taking my turn to write about what I think of the pathetic soap opera in which you have become involved by bringing into question your commitment to LOSC, I stress that I have nothing against you. You will find, in this site’s archives, articles predicting your place in the France A team as soon as this season. As a member of the panel of international journalists of the New York-based AP news agency, which each weekend nominates the ten best player performances from the previous week’s action in all the championships, I ticked your name twice in last season’s list. Through my kind vote, people outside France who, at best, would only have heard of you this summer during the U20 World Cup, were alerted to the explosion of your talent a lot earlier. Please do not thank me: I was just doing my job. It was genuine and proportionate to the esteem that I hold for you as a footballer.
Florian, I am desperate to class you once again amongst the Messis, the Götzes and the van Persies in these little Monday ratings. But in order to do that, or more basically to play for France, which probably corresponds more to your objectives, you need to satisfy an important criterion: you need to play football in the next few weeks. LOSC are paying you, so it is said, 45,000 euros per month to play in their colours. For any young man of 20 years old who has vaguely decided to try their luck as a professional footballer, this would constitute an excellent starting point. But not for you. You, you want to play for OM and, to do that, you are on an unlikely training strike which has earned you mockery at best, attacks at worst. Permit me, Florian, with all the benevolence of one who wants to see you raise the level of the Championnat, to help you analyse the situation by giving you the elements that your impatience has clearly ignored. Because you have asked for the criticism. But there is still time to reverse the situation.
Firstly, I’m sure that deep down you don’t understand why you are the object of so much negative criticism, when a good old strike from training never really hurt any club. In the football business, that kind of thing is part of the furniture, no? At this very moment, Gareth Bale is giving himself a few days’ R&R whilst awaiting his transfer to Real, and we’re not making such a fuss about that.
The difference is that, with you, there are at least two things that should have pushed you to act more prudently:
Firstly, you have woken us French up from a dream that was too good to be true, burst a bubble in which everything seemed to have changed since Knysna. We had convinced ourselves that the Le Havre-Paris return trip was just an accident. You know – the accident of the previous U21 generation, the one that you and your mates were meant to replace. It was beautiful, that U20 world title, achieved in solidarity by a group of well brought-up youngsters, you included. Also beautiful was the U19 European final, attained by another group of well brought-up youths in solidarity. And the unconditional mea culpa of Nasri this summer: nice work too.
But now Florian, because of you, we don’t believe it anymore. France will continue to convince itself that young footballers are people who are a law unto themselves, that they’ll remain that way, and that their greed blinds them to the expense of all else. This image of the immature, unpleasant footballer today has your name and face, until someone else takes the risk of rocking the boat.
Secondly, another difference: those others who have gone on strike ended up spitting on their contracts after several years of defending the colours of their club, in order to accelerate their transfer. That’s no excuse: it’s still an insult to all those who pay you all so well. But it is nothing like your situation, you who tried to ruin the first transfer of your career before even setting foot in your new club.
Understand Florian: you are giving the impression that Lille aren’t good enough for you. I should remind you that you don’t even have 50 professional matches behind you. Only just over 30 matches in Ligue 1. No one knows what effect you would have in a team at the higher end of the league table. Are you certain that you are able to do, say, four good months in a row, for a team with higher expectations than Bastia? What makes you think that it is better for your career to go straight for a team with sometimes unrealistic expectations, like OM, when LOSC are a club in which Dimitri Payet took several long months before showing his potential? A club where Marvin Martin, formerly the darling of les Bleus, still hasn’t reached the level expected of him? What makes you think that things will be easier for you, when your pre-season has been disrupted by the U20 World Cup?
There are people waiting for you at Lille who managed to become French champions without you. You are sending to them, and to Salomon Kalou who was playing at Chelsea only 15 months ago, a message that they are not good enough for you. Frankly, if I was in their place, I would go on a symbolic strike for five minutes at your next training session, to make a point. Unluckily for you, Lille are a club who know how to deal with players who, for a few days, forget where they came from. Adil Rami tried the strike tactic in his time, also to join OM actually. He never set foot there.
That’s the other main message that I wanted to get across to you here: how can you not appreciate what an opportunity you have today at LOSC? Did you read Jeremy Clement’s account this summer? Before his serious leg break, he was adamant that he would not stay in football for too long. Today, he confirms that he will play for as long as possible. Did you hear Samir Nasri’s self-analysis, on the dangerous traps that his ego kept setting for himself? What do you think of Jean-Michel Aulas’ attitude towards Bafétimbi Gomis and how would you react in Bafé’s place? Finally, Florian, have you forgotten that doctors told you that you would never play football after the problem with the cracked vertebra that ruined your time at Grenoble? If, at that time, someone had told you that, at 20 years old, you would have had a contract at Lille, worth more than 500,000 euros per year, and a guaranteed starting spot, you would have bitten their arm off. You are in full health, you have a contract with one of the best clubs in France, everyone wants to see you play. Play! Score! Enjoy yourself! The rest will follow naturally.
Of course, you probably know better than anyone else what is good for you, what your ambitions and strengths are, and what risks you are able to take. I am not denying you this right, but if you are placing your talent and your destiny at the highest of levels, think carefully about the phrase used by the best managers in the world, on how to manage egos: the truly great players never cause problems for their manager. Problems always come from false stars and from those who see themselves for what they are not.
You also have the right to say that, at 20 years old, you are entitled to make mistakes. You are right: everyone has a right to a Get Out Of Jail Free card. I think that my colleagues would let bygones be bygones if you started behaving more professionally in managing your career. I am less sure that the public at large would be able to do so as quickly or as well, when one sees how distant they still are with Ribery, despite the stratospheric levels that he has touched with Bayern in the last year, but I promise you to try to pass on the message. In any case, a good old redemptive press conference, à la Nasri or Ribéry, would be crucial to bury this nasty summer. To this end, you will be aided. Your president, Michel Seydoux, has in the past reintegrated a manager that he himself had sacked, and made sure to act as if everything was normal. He will know to put his arm around your shoulder like a member of the LOSC family, once things have cooled down, in a well-orchestrated press conference to which we will all be invited. Have no fears on that score.
You may also tell yourself, at 20 years old, that your career is ahead of you, that it is possible to sacrifice a few days in order to gain a season and accelerate your rise. On that point, I would not follow you. As long as you are not injured, I urge you not to waste the chance you have to play as much football as your talent allows. The examples of Vincent Pericard or, closer to home, Yann M’Vila or Hatem Ben Arfa, will help you to understand that talent alone counts for little in a career, without great discipline and an ability to make good choices on a daily basis. For the moment, you only have the talent, like shedloads of others before you, who didn’t achieve a third of their potential.
OK, I’ll leave you now, I won’t annoy you any longer. Oh yes, one last thing: don’t be bitter towards the OM directors if, suddenly, you sense them going cold on the idea of spending seven-figure sums on you. You have to understand their position: who, at Marseille, would want to run the risk of having to deal with your possible training strike next January, in order to join Newcastle or Galatasaray? Pardon? Yes, I did say Newcastle and Galatasaray. Yeah, I have no doubt that you are setting your sites higher than that, but don’t kid yourself that in the immense range of data that they put together for future transfer windows, the big clubs have already made a note of your profile, with several unflattering criticisms concerning your mind-set.
Florian, since the financial side clearly means a lot to you this summer, know that you are losing a lot more than 1,500 euros per day during your strike. You are losing possible future contracts that you could hope to sign, and several thousand euros per month in bargaining chips. If nothing else, retain this from this letter, if you didn’t already know it: brilliant dribbling runs and braces of goals don’t leave any more of a mark on people than the story you’re giving them at the moment.
Looking forward to seeing you revive the memory of Eden Hazard in the Lille shirt (I wouldn’t say that to just anyone!), I wish you a good end to the summer.
You can read the original French-language version of Cédric‘s letter here, and can follow him @CedricRouquette and at eurosport.fr