Having scanned the previous player profiles I’ve noticed we’re only missing 1 position and then we could put out a full team playing in a 4-4-2 formation. That position is right back and while I was getting into football in the mid-90s there were not many right backs I liked more than Lilian Thuram so he is the subject of this week’s profile.
Name: Ruddy Lilian Thuram-Ulien
Date of Birth: 1st January 1972
International Caps/Goals: 142/2
A defender who was the definition of a powerful fullback, Thuram began his career as a teenager in 1990 at AS Monaco in Ligue 1. Like most players the young defender was nothing more than a useful role player in his early seasons at the club; however, it must be said that Thuram was a valuable squad player as Monaco managed to win the Coupe de France in 1991. By the end of 1992 Monaco boss Arsene Wenger (I’m sure I’ve heard of him from somewhere) had made Thuram the starter at his position, a role he would keep for another 4 years. After playing 193 times in total for Monaco, and earning a call up to the French national team in 1994, Thuram made a move to Parma in 1996 on a free transfer.
Serie A is where Thuram would spend the best years of his career. Parma were a real contender in the Italian league at the time with such names as Thuram, Gigi Buffon and Fabio Cannavaro providing a bedrock for the team’s attacking players. In 1999 Parma won the UEFA Cup, Coppa Italia and the Suppercoppa Italia to complete a cup treble and establish themselves as one of the premier teams of the late 90s. Thuram was often commended in the Italian media for the consistency of his performance and after the 1997-98 season the Frenchman joined up with his national squad to compete in the 1998 World Cup. It was a tournament that would define his career.
The French team, playing as the host nation, started the tournament well winning all 3 group games and conceding only once (a penalty in a 2-1 over Denmark) before moving onto the knockout stages. Thuram, dropped for the Denmark game, returned to the lineup and France continued their impressive run; beating Paraguay, with a Laurent Blanc Golden Goal, and Italy, on penalties after a 0-0 draw, to set up a semi-final match with Croatia. This is the game that defines Thuram. Early in the 2nd half the defender was badly at fault as Davor Suker gave Croatia the lead and seemed to take it upon himself to take his side to the World Cup final single handed. Less than a minute after Suker’s goal Thuram burst into the penalty area and levelled the scores, and he wasn’t finished. 20 minutes later the man born in Guadeloupe struck again from the edge of the area to give his side a lead they would never surrender.
Those 2 goals are the only goals Thuram would score in an international career that would consist of 142 games, something I doubt worries him too much.
Following the World Cup, Thuram returned to Parma and was a part of the aforementioned UEFA cup winning side and continued to play at phenomenally high level. He was also a part of the French Euro 2000 winning side, although there were no goal scoring heroics from Thuram this time. A year after the European Championship success Parma were hit by financial trouble and Thuram, along with a number of other big names, were sold off as the team attempted to balance its books. Juventus came calling and spent an impressive £25 million on the full back. In the early 2000s the Turin based side could boast an incredibly expensive defensive unit consisting of Buffon, Cannavaro, Thuram, Gianluca Zambrotta and Jonathan Zebina. The money spent on the defenders worked out pretty well for Juventus, as they won 4 league titles (although admittedly 2 of them were won due to money spent elsewhere, see Calciopoli scandal) as well as reaching the 2003 Champions League final, only to lose on penalties to AC Milan. Following Juventus’s relegation for their role in the Calciopoli Scandal Thuram moved to Barcelona for a little over £4 million. He would retire at Barcelona in 2008 after 2 years that were largely affected by injury trouble and the fact that Barcelona had the likes of Rafa Marquez and Carlos Puyol available to select in Thuram’s position.
One of the most powerful fullbacks of his generation Thuram retired in 2008 and has since become politically active, something he was also involved in during his playing career, which adds a further level of gravitas to the Player Profile team. Yet, whatever Lilian Thuram does with the rest of his life he will always be remembered for one night, on the 8th July 1998 at the Stade de France.