Heroes In Black & White (17): Lilian Thuram

Posted on 16/11/2010

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Lilian Thuram is, alongside Jürgen Kohler & Paolo Montero, one of the three best foreign defenders the club has ever seen. In stark contrast to the other two he exudes calm & everything about his game radiated class. While the other two were robust, old-school defenders who collected yellow & red cards like medals, Thuram was first & foremost a footballer. Cool in possession, an accomplished passer & with a fantastic ability to read the game allowing him to play equally well at fullback or in central defence.
His upbringing was tough, his father was never part of his life & his mother left their native Guadeloupe in search of work when he was just five, & it took her four years to be able to afford to bring the children to France with her. His skill was evident at an early age & he made his Monaco debut at 19 & five years later Parma, then backed by the Tanzi family came calling.
There he would form part of an impressive young team which won the Coppa Italia, Super Coppa & UEFA Cup during his spell in a team which regularly did well in the league & was still considered one of the “Seven Sisters” of Italian football. The French national side also enjoyed an amazing spell during Thuram’s Parma years, & he formed an integral part of the team that won both the 1998 World Cup & Euro 2000 tournaments.
Perhaps it was here also that he made the impact that sees his name recognised across the world, scoring his only two international goals in the same game, the World Cup Semi-Final. Seeing him score two great strikes in that 2-1 win over Croatia (as well as his amazing only goal for Juve) it seems strange the player only netted 12 goals in almost 650 games as a professional, but that ‘98 triumph saw many of France’s culturally diverse squad raise their games to an unprecedented level on home soil.
Thuram is proud of his roots & is very aware of the racial problems in both his adopted France & indeed Italy. He runs the Lillian Thuram Foundation – Education against racism, & regularly stands against the French government on these issues. He was offered the role of minister for diversity by Nicolas Sarkozy but refused due to his many public disagreements with the French President. He also spoke out during his playing days, confronting the Parma Ultra after they racially abused George Weah during a game against Milan.
Parma fell into financial trouble in 2001 & Juventus were coming to the end of an era. The team had disappointed under Carlo Ancelotti & Luciano Moggi knew it was time to rebuild the side. Never a man to normally make drastic changes, the General Manager eschewed his usual approach of changing one or two players & sold Filippo Inzaghi, Edwin van der Saar & of course Zinedine Zidane.
With those sales, plus the return of Marcello Lippi, a totally different system was put into place. To help this Moggi brought in Gigi Buffon, Pavel Nedved & Thuram. The goalkeeper cost a world record fee & is arguably the best in his position even today, while Nedved was – & still is – a legend at the club. But the third man, French defender Thuram, is often overlooked when discussing that team, & great players of that generation in general.
In Turin he formed part of one of the best defences ever seen in world football, playing alongside modern greats like Ciro Ferrara, Gianluca Zambrotta, Montero & later reunited with former Parma collegue Fabio Cannavaro. Conceeding goals became extremely rare & the team would win four Scudetti in his five years at the club, as well as a losing appearance in the 2003 Champions League Final.
That formidable defence was the foundation of that side under both Lippi & Fabio Capello, but unfortunately the Calciopoli trial & its ensuing punishments saw the team decimated by the departure of so many high profile players. Thuram left for Barcelona where he played just 40 games in two years, leaving when his contract expired then forced to retire with a heart defect.
A truly influential man & player, he won almost every honour the game has to offer during a career spanning seventeen years. Upon his retirement he was the most capped Frenchman of all time, & the 17th most capped international in the world, a true legend, & was simply imperious during his time at Juventus. Calciopoli may taint many memories, but in black & white Lilian Thuram was simply great.
Source: Il Tifosi
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