“He once played a match aged thirteen wearing the boots his father wore in the final vs Italy” recalls Franck Scanvic, coach and administrator at Athletic Club de Boulogne-Billancourt.
It is debatable which is more impressive. That a thirteen year-old academy player should play fit in his father’s boots. Or that those boots belonged to World and European Champion Lilian Thuram.
Like so many that follow their legendary fathers, Marcus Thuram has had the dual task of creating his own legacy, as well as stepping beyond the shadow of his illustrious parent.
This is the story of Marcus Thuram. A young player with a weighty surname. At twenty-three however, he is only adding further legend to the family name, and carries it majestically.
The Thuram name
Arriving for a youth match with Lilian Thuram’s boots on was a major statement. It could have been interpreted as a boy looking to take on the mantle. Equally it may have been that he was unaware of the meaning and stock woven into those muddied laces.
Scanvic’s recollections of a teenage Thuram support the latter.
“He always played with a smile, a positive person with a collective mindset. He would always play for the collective team and not for himself.”
“There were never problems with attitude, with trying, with school. A good education and had no problems with his football.”
This is a theme that runs through Thuram’s story. Equally the involvement and role of father Lilian is paramount to Marcus’ growth, as well as that of his younger brother Khéphren.
“One or two years after Marcus left the academy, his father sent the younger brother to us at ACBB. Like Marcus he is a very technical player, more offensive even. He also had this collective mindset like Marcus.”
The picture is painted. Thuram senior’s career across Europe brought a range of cultures and perspectives to his boys that translated onto to the football pitch. Marcus’ progression has stayed true to these principles, yet showing the individual and rare talent to set him aside from expectations.
Having left ACBB in 2012 aged fifteen, Thuram would join the Sochaux academy. Three years later, he would make his senior debut for Sochaux in Ligue 2. However rather than tear up the second division, Thuram’s progress was more of steady development.
His solitary goal in thirty seven league outings for the first team do not scream of an unpolished diamond. Or of a diamond at all. Instead he was learning his trade away from the attentions of top leagues and teams. Had he been more prolific it is likely he would have been swept up by a side wishing to capitalise on the fascination in his name.
Nevertheless Ligue 1 side EA Guingamp would pick Thuram up in 2017. Steady progress would again be the name of the game. Twelve league goals in his two seasons at the club is a solid return for a forward at twenty and twenty-one. At one point in the 2018/19 season he was the most prolific dribbler in Europe, completing twenty four carries in the opening month of the season (Goal.com).
Aside from his technical proficiency, Thuram showed mental fortitude to score a penalty to knock PSG out of the Coupe de la Ligue. Earlier in the match he had missed a penalty, so to overturn this setback was a major indication of the strength and character he possesses.
The 2018/19 season would see Guingamp relegated, but Thuram had demonstrated quality to attract the attentions of sides across Europe. Borussia Monchengladbach would make the move for around £12 million, and this is where the Marcus Thuram story gained traction.
A Natural Forward
Thuram’s six-foot-four frame is enough to set him aside physically. Add in the ingredient of explosive pace, and a rare breed of footballer is created. One might be excused for thinking he could have played in defence as his father had. Scanvic, having coached him at three age groups, disagrees.
“No, no, no. I do not remember ever thinking that [he could be a defender].” This again speaks of Thuram’s skill in forward areas, and the benefits his size and speed would have in creating and scoring goals.
“He has a special technique in front of goal, and we are seeing that in the Bundesliga” says Franck. His first season at Borussia Monchengladbach more than supports this view. Thuram scored ten league goals, and showed impressive adaptation to a new league.
His underlying numbers fill in the blanks of a lethal forward. Of his fifty-nine shots on goal, thirty-nine were on target. This rate of 66% was not just the highest in the league, but also nearly 10% clear of the next highest. Very few forwards ever reach such accuracy.
Were he to improve on his 2.41 shots per ninety minutes, his goal tallies will sky rocket. The potential is frightening. Another aspect is that of his creativity, something Scanvic referred to in his understanding of the “collective”.
His eight assists ranked him joint ninth in the league, and his eighteen combined goals and assists was joint-tenth; equal to the revered Kai Havertz. For a forward to combine so many attributes; power, dead-eye shooting accuracy, pace, creativity and assists, puts Thuram in a league with very few others.
As one expects him to develop further, and continue to refine his skill set, he is on a trajectory towards stratospheric attacking output.
A Character Beyond Football
Thuram was not the only star under Scranvic’s eye at ACBB. Another attacker famed for his flair and personality played alongside him in the youth ranks at the club.
“Allen Saint Maximin of Newcastle was also in the team. Both boys have this smile and are good friends.”
That two players of such individual quality can emerge from the club simultaneously speaks highly of the values it places in its’ talented youngsters. Both share an attitude and personal that have endeared them to fans, and of being more than just athletes.
“When Marcus speak to us at the club, by video or by message, he speak about other things. ” says Scanvic. “He speaks with us when his brother was here, and he gives us news sometimes. But he likes to talk about things other than football.”
One of the eye catching things about Thuram since arriving in Germany has been his goal celebrations. Frequently ripping up the corner flag to hoist it above his head, he resembles a gladiator standing beneath the roaring stands.
Most pertinent however was his celebration in the 4-1 win over Union Berlin in May. The first of Thuram’s goals was celebrated by taking the knee in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter protests following the death of George Floyd. Neither Marcus nor his father speak to the press following the coverage of the event, again proving that football is just a microscopic weave in the tapestry of society.
Another Great Thuram?
Having played for France’s youth teams from the U-17s upwards, the next step for Thuram is to break into the senior team. Undoubtedly worthy in merit, the difficulty comes in seeing who is already there in forward positions.
Kylian Mbappé, Anthony Martial, Kingsley Coman, Antoine Griezmann, Alexandre Lacazette, Ousmane Dembélé, Olivier Giroud, Wissam Ben Yedder and Monchengladbach teammate Alassane Pléa. These all stand ahead of Thuram in breaking into the national team.
At twenty-three he still has time to make the step, particularly as the likes of Giroud, Griezmann and Lacazette age out. Whether this comes under the current manager however is uncertain.
“It is difficult to say [whether Thuram will make the French team soon]. I am not Didier Deschamps. However since the COVID break, he has scored in the Bundesliga and put in good performances.”
That is all Thuram can do. One imagines that soon the national selectors will find him too irresistable to turn down. For all the pace and trickery of their current wingers, none have the power nor physicality of Thuram. His future could even be centrally, and this physicality will complement the pace of Mbappé and co. to devastating effect.
This is not a player chasing family shadows. He need nor pursue his father’s record cap tally nor trophy haul to be his own man nor player. Already in his brief career Thuram has demonstrated the rare technical ability to be an elite forward. On top of this, he has also proven himself as a personality to attach to, and to bring joy to his teammates and fans.
“Always smiling, and making others smile” reiterates Scanvic. As much as the impression from watching him play, part of the Marcus Thuram package is accounted for by this positive aura.
As fans and lovers of the game this type of player has never been rarer. Thuram is so rare in every facet of his game and persona, and fans of every top club must hope to see him don their shirt and hold their corner flag aloft.