The 25-year-old winger didn’t last long at Newcastle after being slated by club legend Alan Shearer but he is now thriving again in France
Florian Thauvin has never been allowed to forget the occasion he turned up to a match wearing a tuxedo.
It was a catalyst in bringing about an early end to his ill-fated time at Newcastle, yet such is the esteem in which he is now held in Marseille, OM fans would probably be quite content to see him turn up to Wednesday’s Europa League final wearing a Superman costume.
The 25-year-old’s achievements this season are certainly worthy of such an outfit, as he has led a band of Premier League misfits, including Steve Mandanda, Jordan Amavi and Kostas Mitrogolou, to the cusp of European glory.
Should Atletico Madrid be seen off on Wednesday, legendary status will have been attained by the whole team, yet no player will have been more responsible for their success than the man dumped by Newcastle after only 450 Premier League minutes.
It would also be the completion of an unlikely redemption, which has the winger fighting for a place in Didier Deschamps’ France squad for World Cup 2018, the naming of which has been pushed back until after the final.
Thauvin barely spent four months in England, and while he was quick to make an impression, it was entirely the wrong one.
“He turns up in a tux!” Alan Shearer, the iconic Newcastle striker, exclaimed on BBC ’s ‘Match of the Day’ in one of several attacks on the player, this one over his bizarre choice of pre-game dress. “This is a serious business we’re in here. It was funny on the first day of the season; it’s not funny anymore.”
Signed in the summer of 2015 for £15 million (€17m/$20m), he had not immediately produced the goods for Steve McClaren‘s side, was relegated to the reserves and packaged back to Marseille on a loan deal.
Thauvin, though, felt he was being unfairly singled out, both at home and abroad.
Speaking to L’Equipe , he said: “Alan Shearer violently criticised me by saying that I was making myself out to be someone that I wasn’t, even though I was not the only one wearing a bowtie.
“Why is it always me? I would like to be left alone.”
One goal was all he had to show for his time across The Channel, though his superb improvised volley and a hat-trick of assists in the League Cup against Northampton hinted at the potential he possessed.
Unlike the triumphant return of Dimitri Payet to Marseille in January 2017, his move back to France was initially greeted with scepticism.
His time in England had not helped change attitudes towards a player considered overly individualistic, a belief fuelled by his refusal to turn out for Lille before he had even played a game for the club. Marseille were interested and he was prepared to go to any lengths for a move to Stade Velodrome.
One successful strike later, and he was on a plane to Provence, though at the expense of his reputation.
Before he had departed for the Premier League, former France international goalkeeper Jean-Paul Bertrand-Demanes had said: “[Ibrahimovic] is like Thauvin. They both need a good slap.
“When you see what Thauvin did to Lille to go to OM, you understand. These people have chickpeas for brains and treat others like idiots.”
It was a scathing assessment of where his career was heading, though was predicted by Arsene Wenger when the player signed for Lille.
“His progress now will not depend on his talent but on his mentality,” the Arsenal boss said, suggesting he had concerns over the maturity of the player even then.
Even Marseille head coach Michel grumbled that the winger was “not the player I asked for” when the winger returned from Newcastle, and his suspicions over the mentality of the 25-year-old seemed to be justified when he lasted just 10 minutes of his second debut for the club before being dismissed against Montpellier.
Thauvin, however, remained optimistic about his prospects: “If I manage to take the right turn now, I can reverse things. And you can still play football at a very high level after reaching 30. I must not put too much pressure on myself.”
It has taken time, but he has come good on his words.
In an ailing Marseille side, he initially struggled to turn his form around. Michel’s rather negative tactics did not suit his style but even after the Spaniard was jettisoned to be replaced by Franck Passi, little difference was made.
The arrival of Rudi Garcia in the autumn of 2016, however, started a transformation that was slow at first but soon gathered momentum. By the end of the season, the decisive Thauvin that OM had sold to Newcastle had returned.
With the club’s ‘Champions Project’ – a plan headed by US investor Frank McCourt to lift Marseille back to the summit of French and European football – in full swing by the summer, a deal was closed out to take Thauvin back to Stade Velodrome on a permanent basis.
At just £9.8m (€11m/$13m), it meant Marseille made a significant profit on a player they lost for five months.
Now, he boasts arguably the best numbers in Ligue 1 this season, with 22 goals and 11 assists for the season, meaning that he has made a decisive contribution for his side once every 87 minutes.
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Indeed, he is elite company thanks to these numbers; only Barcelona duo Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez otherwise have more than 20 goals and more than 10 assists in Europe’s elite league this term.
Payet, who was the man supposed to be the returning hero, has six goals and 13 decisive passes for the campaign, and has been pushed into the shade.
For Thauvin, meanwhile, his tuxedo nightmare is long forgotten. Bring home the trophy on Wednesday and Marseille fans will not care what he wears to games – so long as he still has on their colours when he steps onto the field next season.