While Florian Thauvin does not yet have the same international profile as Paul Pogba, the hype surrounding him prior to the FIFA U-20 World Cup Turkey 2013 came close to rivalling the attention given to the Juventus player. However, his disappointing start to the tournament had led some observers to believe that the global stage was a step too far for the 20-year-old.
The attacking midfielder put in a subdued performance in Les Bleuets’ opening Group A encounter with Ghana, during which he had a mild on-pitch disagreement with Pogba and was taken off with half an hour to go. Then against USA, he appeared to overdo his dribbling attempts, and was subsequently replaced at half-time.
It was at that point that France coach Pierre Mankowski admitted the existence of a ‘Thauvin problem’, stating: “He was struggling. When I substituted him, he didn’t take it well. At the moment, he’s not the same Florian that we knew a month ago. He needs to clear his head.”
And then, mirroring the French team as a whole, he reached a turning point in the Round-of-16 victory over Turkey. The Orleans native put in a brilliant display on that occasion, even if he conspired to blast a penalty over the bar in the second half.
The miss had no bearing on the final score, but it did constitute another mental blow for the young Frenchman.
“Yes, I’ve definitely doubted myself,” Thauvin told FIFA.com after the 2-1 semi-final triumph over Ghana. “It came down to not being all that effective at the beginning of the tournament. But that’s all behind me now, and I just need to keep heading in the right direction,” he added with a broad smile.
During France’s quarter-final duel with Uzbekistan, he finally got off the mark – from the penalty spot. In a gesture which revealed the close-knit nature of the French squad, his team-mates insisted that he take the kick, in order that he erase the memory of the one missed versus Turkey. “They said to me, ‘Flo, this one’s yours.’ I was really touched by the way they dealt with it,” he said.
Back on form
Named the Ligue 1 Young Player of the Year for season 2012/13, Thauvin has already played 51 times for Bastia’s senior side, scoring ten goals over two campaigns. It appears, following his dominant and decisive performance against the Ghanaians in Wednesday’s semi-final, that he is beginning to recapture his domestic form at Turkey 2013.
“I was lucky enough to grab two goals today and to help my country qualify for the final,” said the skilful No20. “If I created a bit of history in the process, that’s all the better, but now what we have to do is make sure our name ends up on the trophy,” he said, in reference to France’s first-ever appearance in the tournament’s finale.
Aside from the obvious joy he felt at having helped his team-mates to emerge victorious, his productive outing was also a way of proving his overall worth to the side.
“I really wanted to make up for my displays in the group stage, which were poor, to be quite honest,” he stated bluntly. “Since then, we’ve played well in the knockout phase and did so again today against Ghana, even though they’re a great side and caused us all sorts of problems.”
Having now notched up three goals in the competition, Thauvin has even re-entered the race for top scorer - to his mild surprise. “Really? How many has Yaya got?” he asked, upon learning that he still has a chance of beating team-mate Yaya Sanogo to the adidas Golden Boot award.
The attack-minded international’s eyes lit up momentarily, but his team spirit quickly regained control. “No, I’m not really aiming for that. Our objective is to win the U-20 World Cup. If I end up as top scorer, that would just be the icing on the cake,” he said. Having come a long way in the space of three weeks, who would bet against Thauvin holding aloft both trophies come the end of the tournament?