Le50 2016: Benjamin Pavard – Lille OSC
As a young footballer, your decisions can make or break your career. In this cut-throat business, you need to grasp every opportunity with both hands. When René Girard was in charge in Lille OSC, rather than take a holiday with his parents, Benjamin Pavard stayed in Northern France, giving himself a chance at turning professional.
The 19-year-old took his chance well, playing eight times for Lille last season and as the new Hervé Renard era began at the start of this campaign, it promised much for the teenager.
Versatility has been the key to his young success. His curly locks first grabbed attention playing for the Lille under-19 side as a defensive midfielder. Copying the skills of club captain Rio Mavuba, he looked calm and controlled on the ball. He was strong in defence and became the fulcrum of Stephane Adam’s young team.
There was no doubt that he would be promoted up the ranks at Lille, but he would then catch the eye as a centre-back. As he grew bigger and stronger, he took to the challenge of facing more experienced players – semi-pros who have no issue sticking in a boot and making their presence known – impressively, and with ease.
Starting this season, Pavard was named at right-back as Paris Saint-Germain arrived in Lille for the opening day. Despite the 1-0 defeat, the teenager gave a good account of himself and looked every part the next great hope off the LOSC production line.
With Marko Basa out injured and Renard trying to work out his best system, Pavard even found himself in a back three, earning a place in the starting line-up.
Since joining the first team, the boyhood Lille fan has played at left-back, right-back in the middle and in defensive midfield. When speaking to Pavard, the 20-year-old admitted that being so versatile can be a help and a hindrance to his development. “It’s an advantage because if the manager is missing someone on the left or the right, he sticks you there, but if you’re put in different positions all the time, you lose your bearings.”
Pavard admitted that off the field he is quite reserved, but once on the field he comes into his own. He is determined, hard-working and shows command and understanding of what is asked of him.
As Lille and Frederic Antonetti have turned the season around, it is Pavard who has suffered. Facing an injury crisis at the back, the youngster was brought on after 30 minutes away at Montpellier to replace Renato Civelli. Lining up next to Adama Soumaoro, the two youngsters together seemed to lack leadership.
“I remember my game against Montpellier, where there was no one left, Civelli was injured, but during the week, in training I was playing on the right, on the left, in midfield, I’d never trained in that role. When I got on the pitch, all the coach was doing was shouting at me, and there was no one next to me to talk to me. On the bench, they just kept shouting, it was rather draining.”
Far from the ideal situation for a youngster to flourish. The relationship between coach and player has deteriorated quickly, with Antonetti offering Pavard nothing more than a customary glance in training.
Coaches can often just take a disliking to a player, they may not suit your style or your system, but it’s difficult to comprehend when Pavard is now part of the France under-21 set-up. Playing at either left or centre-back, he hopes to be part of this summer’s Toulon Tournament, perhaps putting himself in the window for possible suitors to rescue him from the Stade Pierre Mauroy.
There is nothing about his personality or his past performances that suggests Pavard deserves to be cast aside at the northern club. He has already declared that he intends to stay in Lille at the end of the season, train with the reserves and get himself ready for whatever comes this summer.
It’s hard to criticise Antonetti – the results have come – but letting a talented young defender leave through the back door, could be a mistake that comes back to haunt the club in the long-term.