Twenty years after their last triumph, France lifted their second World Cup following a fascinating encounter against Croatia, who reached the final for the first time in their history. Didier Deschamps guided Les Bleus to a 4-2 victory, becoming the third person to lift the Jules Rimet as a player and manager, with Kylian Mbappe taking centre stage. But, there was also another youngster who rose to prominence through the tournament.
Benjamin Pavard of VfB Stuttgart played an integral role for France in Russia. The 22-year-old played every minute of the tournament, scoring arguably the goal of the World Cup in the process, coming in their 4-2 win over Argentina.
The Frenchman joined Stuttgart following their relegation to the 2. Bundesliga, swapping Lille for Southern Germany in a transfer that would yield playing time and an instant return to the top flight for the 2007 Bundesliga champions.
Offers were there for the then France U21 international to remain in France but Pavard opted for a move abroad, to a team that is known to give younger players an opportunity.
Playing time came in the second division and under the guidance of then head coach Hannes Wolf, Pavard played an important role into lifting the second division title with Stuttgart.
Speaking to Goal.com, he said: “Some people said my career would regress because Stuttgart were in the second division when I joined, but it worked out pretty well. I’ve made great strides as a player. I’m playing regular football, playing for a top German club, in front of sold-out crowds. Everything’s going well.”
A promotion back to the top flight beckoned for Pavard, who played 21 league games during his first season at Stuttgart. Little did he know that his career would advance as quickly as it did.
The Swabians didn’t get off to the best of starts upon their return under Wolf but a change in head coach resulted in the appointment of Tayfun Korkut, someone who has been there and done that, guiding numerous teams away from safety.
The former Bayer Leverkusen and Hannover 96 coach almost brought European football back to the Mercedez-Benz Arena, only missing out due to Eintracht Frankfurt’s win over Bayern Munich in the DFB Pokal final.
An important member to that team was Pavard. The Frenchman would play every Bundesliga minute for Stuttgart at the heart of the defence, but also deputising at right-back while acting as a defensive midfielder when necessary.
His form for Stuttgart was brought to Deschamps’ attention, who awarded the 22-year-old his France debut against Wales which resulted in a 2-0 win.
“It’s crazy to be called up. I wasn’t expecting it, but then I get the call,” said Pavard. “Obviously, I’m delighted and I’ll make sure I repay the coach for the faith he has shown me. Right-back, centre-back, left-back – it’s all the same to me. You have to be able to defend. I’m happy in all positions.”
Little did he know that his 12th cap for France would be in the World Cup final. The local boy from a town in Northern France, who made his name at Stuttgart, has probably cemented himself as France’s starting right-back for years to come, now ahead of Djibril Sidibé in the pecking order.
Of course, Pavard – who many hadn’t expected to start a game for France in Russia – has a long way to go in terms of development, but with a likeness to France legend Lilian Thuram, the 22-year-old will be sure to enjoy this moment while it will be one he and his team will cherish forever.
Another World Cup winner returning to the Bundesliga is Bayern Munich’s Corentin Tolisso who also played an important role, albeit with fewer minutes. The 23-year-old made a substitute appearance in the final against Croatia, meaning Bayern have had a player in every World Cup final since 1982.
The midfielder, who started just two games in Russia, often came on as a second-half substitute when Deschamps needed a different impact on the game. Tolisso brought a new dynamic to the France team, shoring up the defence but still being able to offer a killer ball in an attacking sense.
Just one year older than Pavard, Tolisso will certainly have a future for France at international level while he’ll be important to Bayern Munich under new head coach Niko Kovac.
Coming back with runners-up medals are Eintracht Frankfurt’s Ante Rebic, Hoffenheim Andrej Kramaric and Bayer Leverkusen’s Tin Jedvaj.