Les Bleuets’ bench boomer

Most English football fans are familiar with the term ‘super sub’. It describes a player who usually starts on the bench, but who invariably makes a telling contribution when he enters the field of play. 

The tag can sometimes sit uncomfortably with the player concerned, as he is often torn between the joy of contributing to his team’s success, and the frustration of only playing a bit-part role.

For those new to the concept, France U-20 international Alexandre Lacazette provides a stellar example. The Lyon-born forward has come off the bench in all three of Les Bleuets’ matches in Colombia, and, one way or another, has made a real impact every time.

Lacazette came on at half-time in France’s opening defeat by hosts Colombia, and he soon carved out a brilliant goal-scoring opportunity. Unfortunately, on that occasion, he was unable to find the net.

“I rounded the goalkeeper but I thought the defender was tracking back, so I rushed it,” he told FIFA.com. “It was the turning point in the match. If I’d scored, we’d have been level at 2-2.”

The young forward was clearly dismayed to see the chance go begging, but as he explained, his spirits were not down for long. “We conceded two goals after that,” he said. “I was obviously disappointed, but everyone got behind me. The coach, my team-mates and my family all encouraged me, so I didn’t beat myself up over it.”

We know all of the things we need to improve on in order to win the FIFA U-20 World Cup, and we’re working towards them.
Alexandre Lacazette

After the disappointment of the opening defeat, Lacazette picked himself up and turned his focus to France’s second match against Korea Republic. The youngster entered the fray with an hour on the clock, before scoring in stoppage time to put the seal on a 3-1 victory.

“Loic Nego overlapped on the right, Gilles Sunu flicked it on with his heel and I decided to take a touch, because it’s usually the safest thing to do with balls like that,” said Lacazette, recalling the strike. “I struck it well and it ended up in the back of the net.” His relief at scoring the winner was palpable, and he added: “It gave me a bit of extra confidence."

Lacazette was on the bench for France’s third outing against Mali, and, once again, his introduction was pivotal. The match had been a tense affair, but the Lyon starlet’s unselfish, intelligent pass 20 minutes from time allowed Cedric Bakambu to break the deadlock.

“I remembered a similar situation involving Antoine [Griezmann], where he could have taken a shot but passed instead,” he said. “So I decided to try the same thing, and it paid off.” Lacazette got on the score-sheet himself just a few minutes later with a powerful shot from a tight angle, and it proved to be the goal that confirmed France’s place in the knockout stages.

Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United and Roma are among the clubs thought to be interested in Lacazette, and they are no doubt aware of his ability to make a difference each time he takes to the field. His reputation as an impact player is nothing new, however, and predates Colombia 2011.

Lacazette came off the bench to set up two goals in his UEFA Champions League debut against Benfica last November, and he scored Lyon’s equaliser against Hapoel Tel Aviv in December after coming on as a substitute. The forward also replaced Gilles Sunu in the final of the UEFA European U-19 Championship last summer, and it was his goal that clinched the title for Les Bleuets.     

The super sub label is certainly starting to stick, but Lacazette is not unduly concerned: “I’ve come on a few times and been able to help the team, which is the important thing. Of course I’d like to be first-choice and I’m working towards getting more time on the pitch.”

Lyon targets
Lacazette finds himself in a similar situation at Lyon, but he remains philosophical and is prepared to wait for his chance. “I’ve already played a few matches in Ligue 1 and the Champions League,” he explained. “But I still have a lot of room for improvement. I hope to get as much playing time as possible this year. I’d like to be among the first-choice players at Lyon, but all in good time.

“There are some very good players ahead of me at Lyon, such as Lisandro Lopez and Jimmy Briand,” added Lacazette, a keen admirer of Ronaldinho and Thierry Henry. “I work with them as much as possible in order to progress. It’s the same in the French team – the level is very high.”

For the time being, France’s last-16 showdown with Ecuador is Lacazette’s main priority. The forward will almost certainly play some part – from the bench or otherwise - and he feels it is time for Les Bleuets to step things up a gear.

“We’re not yet at our best,” he admitted. “We know all of the things we need to improve on in order to win the FIFA U-20 World Cup, and we’re working towards them.”

One thing is for sure: if Lacazette springs off the bench and fires Les Bleuets to victory, nobody in France will have any complaints.