Friday, January 21, 2022

Lilian Thuram – one of the greats

With one thing and another it hasn’t been possible until now to pay tribute to the career of one of the greatest defenders ever to grace our game. Former France defender Lilian Thuram has brought his illustrious playing career to an end after being diagnosed with a heart condition.

He has been an unsung hero for many years and as a defender hasn’t had the same type of adulation and praise that is afforded to the likes of Thierry Henry and Zinedine Zidane, although his contribution has been at least equally as important.

The thirty-six year old right back or centre half had been set to return to France to sign for Paris St Germain, so that he could end his career in his own country. He had struggled to maintain a regular first team place at Barcelona since he moved their 2006 and was looking forward to a few more years at senior level with PSG. He talked about wanting to be the Paolo Maldini of Paris Saint Germain.

Unfortunately for Thuram the move fell through after doctors diagnosed that he had a heart problem. Thuram’s brother had tragically died from a cardiac condition and whilst making the decision to retire was a difficult one, he found himself with little choice.

“It is difficult for me to continue. I would have liked to sign with PSG but I prefer not to take risks,” he said. “It’s sad to end a career like this.”

Lilian Thuram has been one of the most successful footballers in the history of the game. He has won trophies with four clubs in three countries and has won two international tournaments with his country. He was named as one of the top one hundred and twenty five living footballers by Pele in 2004 and in 2006, at the age of thirty-four, he was named in the FIFPro world XI.

Along with Paulo Maldini, the man who Thuram had wanted to emulate, and Fabio Cannavaro, he is certainly one of the best defenders to ever grace the game. His ability to read the game, his positional sense and his ability on the ball set him apart from most defenders. Add to that his pace, his ability to tackle and a real ability in the air, despite standing at under six feet and you had almost the perfect defender.

In club football Thuram won the French Cup with Monaco, the Uefa Cup, the Italian Cup and the Italian Super Cup with Parma, the Italian Super Cup and Serie A four times with Juventus (although two of those titles were stripped from them) and the Spanish Super Cup with Barcelona.

He is a veteran of well over six hundred senior appearances at the highest level and is renowned for achieving a level of consistency rarely seen from any player.

However, it is for his exploits as an international footballer that Thuram’s career will be best remembered. He made one hundred and forty two appearances for France, scoring just two goals. That number of appearances makes him France’s most capped player ever. He is some twenty-six caps ahead of his nearest challenger.

In Euro 2008 he became the player to have made the most appearances in Uefa European Championship finals with an astonishing sixteen games.

In the European Championships he reached the semi-finals once in 1996 and then famously won the tournament in 2000. At the end of that tournament he was selected in the all star representative side which contained seven of the French side.

Even greater than his achievements in the Euros, Thuram has been the losing finalist in the World Cup once in 2006 and the winner when the tournament was held in France in 1998.

The only two international goals he has ever scored came in the 1998 World Cup semi-final when France came back from 1-0 down to defeat Croatia 2-1. Not a bad time to break your duck!

At the end of that tournament Thuram was awarded the Bronze Ball as the third most valuable player in the tournament and selected as one of only four French players in the all star representative side. He was also named in the all-star team from the 2006 World Cup.

Thuram had already announced his retirement from the International stage after a disappointing Euro 2008 for France and for him personally.

It is a shame that the shambles that was France in that tournament was the last we will see of Lilian Thuram on the pitch, but that disaster cannot take away from the quite wonderful career the player from the French West Indies has had.

I hope Thuram stays in football because he is someone that should not be lost from the game.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Graham Fisher


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