Become a star in your debut Bundesliga season, win the World Cup, sign for Bayern Munich- it looks like the seamless career path that any top flight footballer would dream of. Well that is exactly what happened to French defender Benjamin Pavard.
So why is it that the 23-year-old begins his career next season at the Allianz Arena with a lot still to prove?
Benjamin Pavard, in the space of just two years, played himself into both a French World Cup-winning squad and into a transfer to Bayern Munich. At VfB Stuttgart last season however, he suffered relegation from the Bundesliga with the Swabians, meaning he arrives in Munich as not only a World champion (like fellow summer signing Lucas Hernandez), but with the unwanted record of being relegated from the German top flight the following season.
The fairy tale of Russia 2018 turned into the nightmare of Bundesliga 2019 as he was unable to help save VfB from the drop into the second tier. The €35 million Bayern splashed out on him looked money well spent at the time, but after a poor season looks to be a little more of a gamble.
Fairy tale to nightmare
It was perhaps understandable that after the World Cup win, it would take the young defender a little more time to get into the groove at the start of the 2018-19 season, and with Stuttgart struggling first under Tayfun Korkut, then Markus Weinzierl and then finally Nico Willig, he alone couldn’t save the club from the drop into the second tier.
Pavard was selected at centre back 23 times and played right-back on 8 occasions making it seem all the more likely that Bayern have him earmarked for a central defensive role rather than at fullback. Talented as he is, there were more than a few moments last season when he was seriously exposed, and his errors led to goals.
Against Borussia Dortmund on matchday 8 he endured an awful game. BVB scored with their first attack of the game with Pavard looking like a rabbit caught in the headlights as Jadon Sancho capitalised on his poor defending. His dreadful pass inside on 25 minutes then handed Paco Alcacer Dortmund’s third goal. The esteemed magazine Kicker handed him the worst possible match rating of 6 for his performance.
He suffered another pretty abject showing on matchday 30 in Stuttgart’s 6-0 away loss at FC Augsburg. It wasn’t just with his club side that the cracks were showing. When France were defeated by Turkey at the end of the season, Pavard looked very shaky and his error almost handed Buruk Yilmaz the chance to make it 3-0 to the Turks.
At Bayern Pavard has inherited the number 5 shirt vacated by Mats Hummels following his return to Dortmund. Big boots and a big shirt to fill for the Frenchman- especially when you look down the years at former Bayern number fives (Franz Beckenbauer, Klaus Augenthaler, Thomas Helmer).
Another Bayern legend, Bixente Lizarazu, has already expressed the opinion that Pavard has a lot to prove following last season. In an interview with Kicker, the former Bayern fullback said Pavard had to improve his game. “Stuttgart is not Munich, from VfB to FC Bayern is a big step” he explained.
“Pavard of course has to improve in order to play for Bayern. He has a lot to do. Technically he is strong, nimble, and he plays good passes. But his development has gone backwards since the 2018 World Cup even with the national team he has been just average.
“As a right-back he has to improve defensively, be more aggressive and learn the right behaviour in one-on-one situations. Pavard not only has to take one step forward, but two” added Lizarazu.
The sale of Mats Hummels to Dortmund and the expected eventual departure of Jerome Boateng means Bayern go into next season with a young and relatively unexperienced set of centre backs. Niklas Süle has convinced Bayern he is the cornerstone upon which they are going to build the back four, but it seems risky to put so much pressure and expectation on a pairing of Süle/ Pavard.
Lukas Hernandez could play in the centre, while Pavard could go to right-back allowing Joshua Kimmich to push up into midfield, but the centre back position looks to be where Bayern have Pavard pencilled in.
Only time will tell whether Benjamin Pavard will prove the doubters wrong and return to the sparkling form of 2018. Only time will tell whether Bayern may regret letting Mats Hummels take his huge experience back to the Ruhr.
Interesting times ahead.
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