Le50 2016: Thomas Didillon – FC Metz
As FC Metz brought in a raft of new players during the summer in their quest for an immediate return to Ligue 1, only in one position were no purchases made; however, one major change did take place, as 19-year-old goalkeeper Thomas Didillon took over the number 1 slot from Johann Carrasso. While Metz’s season has been a rollercoaster, with managerial changes and form that has blown hot and cold, Didillon’s performances have been one of the few positive constants.
Having signed his first professional contract with Metz in May 2013, Didillon made his first appearance for the first team a year later against Laval as then-coach Albert Cartier gave the youngster some risk-free experience, Metz having already been crowned champions. Didillon helped keep a clean sheet in a 0-0 draw.
Clearly rated highly by the club but also too green for the Ligue 1 squad, Didillon was sent out on loan for the 2014/15 season, to Metz’s sister club in the Belgian second tier, Seraing United, where he made 31 appearances. Asked about his temporary Belgian exile, Didillon said: “I’m happy because I played at the highest level I could at the time, and it brought me loads, in terms of actual matches but in a more general football sense, how to manage everything that comes with it, how to handle a full 35-match season.”
This was a typically well-considered reply from Didillon, who at one point was considering taking up a long-distance law course in parallel to his football development, as he missed his studies. The fact that he has been representing France since under-16 level suggests that football was always going to be the likely option, however. And in the summer of 2015 he began to gain wider renown as he represented France’s under-20s in the Toulon tournament, playing three matches including the final, which France won 3-1.
In March this year he made his first two appearances for the under-21s, in European championship qualifiers. This was just reward for an excellent start to his first season as the Metz number 1. After keeping a clean sheet against Lens in the first match of the season, Didillon’s man of the match performance against Sochaux in game 2 gave Metz a barely deserved victory. Asked after the match how the team manages with 14 nationalities in the changing room, Didillon gave the question short shrift: “we really couldn’t care less – we all speak the same language: football”.
Indeed, before sustaining a broken finger which kept him out for two months, Didillon conceded only two goals in seven matches; despite having only scored eight goals in that time, Metz were in first place and had Didillon to thank for their (arguably false) position.
Since his return (punctuated by one more small break for the brilliantly enigmatic “traumatism to the big toe after a domestic accident”), Didillon’s form has dipped slightly from that spectacular start, although his inconsistent, flaky defence must share the blame. But over the season he has highlighted why, despite the competition, he is rising to the top of France’s list of goalkeeping prospects. An excellent shot-stopper with lightning-quick reflexes, Didillon himself describes well his other attributes: “it’s hard to answer as I’m so young. But I’m a big lump so I like the aerial side… Also – I wouldn’t say charisma – but I’ve got the big mouth that you need to be a goalkeeper”.
There are of course areas to be worked on. His kicking game is solid but there is room for improvement (a calamitous goal conceded due to a clearance straight against Créteil’s striker Ima Andriatsima was the low point). And although he likes to play a high line, he needs to show better judgement as to when it is better to hold back. But this will come. Asked to identify his own weaknesses, Didillon said: “inconsistency – in a lot of areas – but that will gradually come with age. So that’s a lot [of weaknesses] and not a lot at once.”
In a recent interview, Didillon was asked which team he dreams of playing for. Before giving another erudite answer describing how he loves different leagues and different styles of play, he said: “Bayern – for Oktoberfest!” The comment was clearly meant in jest, but when it comes to finding a replacement for Manuel Neuer, Bayern may in time take the comment very seriously.