Ruud Doevendans has been an official columnist for a Dutch club and owns one of the largest
collections of soccer videos containing hundreds of World Cup matches. We at PWC are proud to have him as
a columnist. He will share his views about the past, present and future of
the World Cup.
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Now picture yourself this:
You are a well respected right-back for your country, played 37 caps but never scored. You're with your team in the semi final of the World Cup and you go a goal behind just seconds after the break, mainly because you and your fellow left back ignore the offside trap that your teammates have opened for the opponent. Then you score, just 66 seconds later, the equalizer to make up for your mistake and after 23 minutes more the winner as well with a left footed shot despite being a naturally right footed player. Remember, being a right back having never scored for your country before. You go on to win 142 caps, but after this semi final and despite several successes, you never score again for your country.
This is what happened to Lilian Thuram.
Thuram was never a great goalscorer, netting ten in his 492 leaguematches. Five of them came in the 1995/1996 season with Monaco and he only scored two leaguegoals after that. Repeat: two leaguegoals in the last twelve seasons, or 350 matches. That ain't much!
And then these two strikes within 23 minutes in the semi final of the 1998 World Cup. France won the match 2-1, reached the final against Brazil and the rest is history.
'Thu Thu' started his career in Monaco winning the French Cup in 1991. It would remain his only price in the principality. After the Euro 1996 tournament, where France reached the semi finals (lost to the Czech Republic on penalties) he joined Italian then-greats Parma and it was here where an illustrious career really took off. He went on to win the Italian Cup, the Super Cup and the UEFA Cup, all in 1999.
In 2001 Thuram was transferred to Juventus. Thuram went on to become one of the most successful players of his generation by winning four championships (2002, 2003, 2005 and 2006 though the last two went to Internazionale because of the match fixing scandal that La Vecchia Signora got involved in) as well as the Italian Super Cup in 2002 and 2003. He spent his last two seasons, mainly as a second choice, at Barcelona where he won a Spanish Super Cup.
In the meantime the world had learned to know him as a politically engaged person. He took position against conservative Nicolas Sarkozy during the riots in the Parisian suburbs in 2005, stating that Sarkozy, who had used words like 'scum', obviously never lived in places like these. One year later he again clashed with the future President of France when he invited 80 young people to the France-Italy match after they were expelled from the houses where they lived illegally. Thuram also campaigned in favour of the Catalan language and the independence from France of the Northern Catalonian area.
Even more recognition than as a clubplayer Thuram earned as right back and later central defender for France. His 142 caps are a national record by a mile and it will take a long time before some does better. Looking at the current French squad I can not see anyone overtaking this total so it is likely that the future recordholder still has to play his first cap. Thuram won a lot (World Cup in 1998, Euro 2000 and the Confederations Cup in 2003). He hardly made mistakes, he was quick and sound and a defender everyone would have loved to have in his team. The French team only lost 15 of the 142 matches he played in and conceded just 85 goals (a stunning average of under 0,6). The defence existing of Thuram, Marcel Desailly, Laurent Blanc and Bixente Lizarazu will remain famous for many years to come and belongs to the world's best defences of all time.
Thuram was expected to join Paris Saint Germain for a new stage in his career, until the discovery of a heart problem prevented this. It was a similar problem that cost his brother his life and Thuram now has decided not to take any risks to retire at the age of 36. I think this is a smart decision. He has too much to look back to and too many good years in front of him, who knows as a good trainer/coach or as a respected politician.
There have not been many better right-backs.
There have been many though who scored more often.
But there has never been a right-back who scored two such important goals in one match, being the only two he ever scored for his country in so many caps.
Au revoir, Thu Thu!
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