Defender | Stuttgart | France
Pavard had been long rated as a versatile defensive player among Lille circles, and had just begun to establish himself as first team regular, playing anywhere across the back as well as defensive midfield, when Frederic Antonetti came in as coach and, to the surprise of many, deemed him not up to scratch.
At 20, Pavard took the brave step of moving abroad and down a division, joining fallen German giants Stuttgart. His debut immediately raised eyebrows as he announced himself with a goal and a pitch-length assist which broke three lines and went viral on social media. He won the second division in his first season (playing mainly at right back) and was a regular starter (playing mainly at centre back) as Stuttgart finished comfortably in mid-table in their first season back in the top flight.
Tall, comfortable on the ball, keen to push forward and stronger than his slight frame suggests, Pavard has taken the scenic route to becoming an archetypal modern defender and, while still young and raw, he is embracing his rapid learning curve and is also growing in confidence off the pitch too, robustly defending himself against recent criticism of his form and talking about taking more of a leadership role as his German improves.
He has also proven quite a good luck charm for France, the recent defeat to the Netherlands his first defeat after 36 matches in Bleu at all levels.
2018 has been…
… a fairytale. Despite continuing to impress for Stuttgart as they steadily climbed from relegation candidates to 8th place over the course of the first six months of the year – and despite making a couple of short friendly appearances for France in late 2017 – he was barely known to the majority of French football fans. But a combination of an injury to Djibril Sidibe and a dearth of decent French right-backs suddenly saw Pavard emerge as the starter for France’s World Cup campaign.
Somehow managing to rise above the criticism of Mark Lawrenson, who targeted him throughout the opening Australia match (presumably for daring to play despite Lawro having done no prior research on him), Pavard grew into the tournament, doing a sterling defensive job (despite having no support at any moment from Mbappe in front of him) and supporting the attack whenever possible.
His big moment – and one of the moments of this and possibly any World Cup – was his stunning curling long-range volleyed goal against Argentina, which many of the squad later said was the moment they believed they could win the World Cup. Instant cult status, his own Achey-Breaky chant and a World Cup winner’s medal have made 2018 prefect for Pavard, despite a tough final six months with some below-par performances for France and struggling Stuttgart.
First off, recover from the injury sustained last week against Borussia Möchengladbach, just as he was getting back to top form. Then decide when, as seems inevitable, he joins Bayern Munich (some reports suggest it could be as soon as January, as Stuttgart need to free up funds to buy more attacking players).
Long term it may help Pavard to settle on one position – the fact that he can play as right-back and centre-back in a back two or three makes him a very popular squad player but the international moonlighting in his less preferred right-back position may at some point work against him.
For now though, lack of viable alternatives at full-back (and a lack of depth in that position at Bayern too…) suggests that he will continue to have ample opportunity for the position to grow on him.
A – 2018 was a dream come true. Needs to work to extend the dream