Bayern Munich defender Benjamin Pavard has enjoyed a spectacular ascent from Bundesliga 2 hopeful with VfB Stuttgart to world champion in the space of two years. A FIFA World Cup wonder goal helped him go from an unknown quantity in his homeland to a crowd favourite they can’t stop singing about.
bundesliga.com presents 10 things you should know about Bayern's French defender...
1) He’s following on from Papin
Born in the north of France near the Belgian border, Pavard first played with his hometown club in Jeumont – the same place it all started for former Bayern and France striker Jean-Pierre Papin.
At the age of nine, he joined the academy at Lille, and four times a week his parents would make a 60-mile round trip to bring their son to training and back. The dedication paid off, as Pavard made his Ligue 1 debut at the age of 18 in January 2015. A move to Stuttgart followed in August 2016, and Pavard – the son of a former French third division defender - will always be thankful to his parents for helping it happen.
“My parents have always been there for me,” he said after watching a surprise message from them on live TV during the 2018 World Cup. “When I was little I joined a club at an early age and it wasn't easy for them because I was their only son.”
“I was very moved because of the distance they travelled when I was young. I ended up going a long way from home and it wasn't easy for them. It wasn't easy for me either and this is the reward for all the sacrifices they made for me.”
2) Stuttgart backed him
Pavard’s move to Germany came somewhat by chance, as a change of manager at Lille saw him fall out of favour. Former Aston Villa, Stuttgart and West Ham midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger - who now heads up Stuttgart’s youth academy – revealed how the French youngster wound up at the Bundesliga club.
“I had never even heard of Benjamin before Stuttgart set the focus on him, let alone know what type of player he was,” Hitzlsperger wrote in a column for The Guardian. “But someone mentioned there was this young defender who was struggling to get opportunities at Lille and that we may want to check him out. So I watched some videos, liked what I saw, and made contact with a journalist who covers Ligue 1 and asked for his advice.”
“He told me Benjamin was a real talent and the only reason he wasn’t playing at Lille was because the manager there preferred more experienced players. So my colleague went to Lille to watch Benjamin in training and, having also liked what he saw, recommended him to our then sporting director.”
3) Indispensable versatility
Once he moved to Germany, Pavard hardly put a foot wrong. He set up a goal after just two minutes on his debut – a 4-0 win over Greuther Fürth in October 2016 – and netted the third himself for good measure.
He got his first winner’s medal in his first year there, as he helped his new club earn promotion as 2016/2017 Bundesliga 2 champions. The promising centre-back then started (and finished) all 34 matches on Stuttgart’s return to the top flight, part of a squad that secured an impressive seventh-place finish in 2017/18.
Although schooled as a centre-back, where he mostly played for VfB, Pavard was used in a variety of defensive positions, including holding midfield. But he seemed to find his place following the arrival of coach Tayfun Korkut, who kept the Frenchman at centre-back as Stuttgart went from the lower reaches of the table to the verge of Europe after only conceding 10 times in the final 14 games – also winning 4-1 in Munich on the final day.
Watch: How Pavard got the eye at Stuttgart
Having impressed France boss Didier Deschamps, Pavard was included in the 2018 World Cup squad, but not as a central defender. With Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti the pair in the middle, the Stuttgart man was deployed at right-back. A position he would make his own, including later at Bayern.
However, he would revert to his central position with Stuttgart in the 2018/19 campaign, going another 14 games until missing his first minutes of Bundesliga action due to a muscle tear.
In fact, over two seasons with VfB as a first-division club, Pavard was on the pitch for all but seven matches and four minutes of 74 competitive fixtures. On only one of those occasions was it not due to injury.
4) He was unknown in France not so long ago
Pavard represented France at youth level, helping the U19 side to finish third at the 2015 European Championship before graduating to the U21s.
His form with Stuttgart proved impossible to ignore, and France coach Deschamps handed Pavard his debut at senior level in November 2017, when he came on as a half-time substitute in a 2-0 win over Wales.
Speaking during Les Bleus’ incredible World Cup run in July 2018, Pavard was blown away by how quickly he had won over the country.
“It’s a bit strange because people hadn’t necessarily heard of me before,” he said in an interview with the French Football Federation.
“I still remember when I was called up for the first time in November and everyone said to me ‘who are you, who are you?’ Now I’m playing regularly and putting in good performances thanks to the whole squad and the coaching staff, who give me confidence.”
5) THAT goal
Pavard’s first strike for Stuttgart was a thumping header against Fürth in the second tier. His maiden top-flight goal came on Matchday 10 of the 2017/18 season, a delightful back header during a 3-0 win over Freiburg.
He then got the whole world’s attention with that breath-taking equalising goal against Argentina in Russia. Leaning back as a cross from future Bayern teammate Lucas Hernandez found its way to the right side of the area, Pavard showed sumptuous technique to slice across the ball and send a swerving, first-time volley screaming into the top corner. The strike was deservedly voted Goal of the Tournament and made him the first defender to score at a World Cup for France since Lilian Thuram in 1998.
“I haven’t slept a wink,” Pavard said the next morning during an appearance on French TV show Telefoot. “I’m still on cloud nine. To score at a World Cup in this blue jersey is huge… I’ve been watching videos of my goal on a loop.”
Following the World Cup, Pavard told L’Equipe that it was a type of volley that he likes but tries rarely.
“It was only afterwards that I realised: that goal, that strike, will stay with me for life,” he said. “It’s changed my life… In 20 years, when you type ‘Pavard’ in YouTube it will be [followed by] ‘goal Argentina’. It’s something huge to be associated with that, in a competition like that.”
6) Not a fluke
Although he said it’s not the sort of hit he usually goes for, it’s become a bit of a trademark of his. Any ball that comes out to the right corner of the penalty area prompts flashbacks of that strike in Kazan as Pavard comes running onto it looking for the far top corner by putting his laces through it.
But whether the ball’s on the deck or in the air, Pavard always poses a threat at the other end, on top of his defensive duties. He got four goals in his first Bundesliga season with Bayern and chipped in with five assists. Two of those came against Union Berlin, with one a header and the other another confidently taken volley from the edge of the box.
Watch: Pavard’s volley in the 2019/20 win over Union (from 00:15)
7) He has his own chant
During the World Cup, fans of Les Bleus came up with a song for the young defender after his stunning volleyed goal helped France come from behind to beat Argentina 4-3 in the last 16.
To the tune of Achy-Breaky Heart by Billy Ray Cyrus, the chant makes reference to the defender’s meteoric rise - suggesting that you might not have heard of him because he’s “come from nowhere” – before boasting about his hell of a shot.
Shortly after the goal against Argentina, his Stuttgart teammates did a rendition of the song as part of a good luck message to the player ahead of the World Cup quarter-final.
And the French fans’ songs did not go unnoticed by Pavard himself.
“There were a lot of songs that came out about me,” he told the FFF. “It means a lot to me that the people in France are happy. I'm someone who gives everything when they put on the shirt and I'm not afraid of who we're up against.”
8) Won it all
Pavard’s move to Bayern was announced in January 2019 and he would join the club for the 2019/20 season – a year that would swell his trophy collection to levels most players can only dream of over their careers. “I have lofty goals,” he told L’Equipe. “I’m hungry for trophies. A world title won’t satisfy me.”
Well, he might feel a little fuller now. While the Frenchman was still only 24, he was simultaneously the holder of the Bundesliga, DFB Cup, UEFA Champions League, DFL Supercup, UEFA Super Cup, FIFA Club World Cup and FIFA World Cup prior to the conclusion of the 2020/21 season. He also has a Bundesliga 2 winner’s medal in his cabinet from 2016/17.
Pavard also secured his place in Bayern history as the player who scored the winning goal in the Club World Cup final against Mexican outfit Tigres. The strike earned Hansi Flick’s team their sixth trophy in the space of a year, which is a feat only Barcelona have previously achieved.
“It’s always been in me forever – I want to be one of the best players in the world,” he told L’Equipe. “I have lofty goals… I’m hungry for trophies. A world title won’t satisfy me.”
9) He’s prone to tears of joy
Pavard is very close to his parents, who used to travel six hours to go to every Stuttgart home game. When they surprised him with their video message following THAT goal against Argentina - telling him how proud of him they are - the rising star could not hold back the tears.
“I won’t ever be able to thank them enough for all they did for me,” he responded.
Pavard has often stated that his first goal is to make his mother and father proud, and he certainly did that in the summer of 2018 as he helped France become world champions for just the second time in their history.
Speaking after the 4-2 win over Croatia in the final, he revealed that he had also cried during the match as the reality of what he had achieved started to hit home.
“Two years ago [at Euro 2016] I was in the fan zone in Lille with my friends,” he told French TV. “A year ago, I was playing in the German second division.
“I have come out of nowhere, as the song about me says. I still haven't fully realised what we have done. It's great. During the game, when there were two or three minutes left, I shed a few tears.”
10) An unbeaten world champion
One of the most remarkable things about Pavard is that he won the World Cup without ever having lost a match for France – a run of 31 matches from U19 to senior level.
It was in fact 17 caps before he lost a game and has only been on the losing side twice in his first 34 international appearances. But the 25-year-old is not done yet. “It’s always been in me forever – I want to be one of the best players in the world,” he told L’Equipe.
“You have to win, win, and win again,” he continued. “In two years, there’s the European Championship – I want to win it. I want to win everything. The World Cup several times, the Champions League, all the possible titles. I want to be a player with a huge number of honours. I’m savouring it but after that we’ll go back to battle.”