FIFA World Cup winner Benjamin Pavard has made a strong start since moving from VfB Stuttgart to Bayern Munich. So strong, in fact, that Bayern president Uli Hoeneß reckons the French defender will prove one of the German champions’ best ever acquisitions.
bundesliga.com takes a closer look at why Hoeneß is so certain…
From the highs of a 2018 World Cup win, Pavard experienced the lows of relegation with Stuttgart last season. The 23-year-old had been in demand after his heroics in Russia, where he picked up a Goal of the Tournament prize as well as a winner’s medal. He felt he owed something to Stuttgart, however, and promised to stay with the 2006/07 Bundesliga champions for another year.
They had taken a chance on Pavard when he was out of favour at Lille, and he helped them back to the top flight in the 2016/17 campaign. The versatile defender was integral to a seventh-place finish on their return, but could not prevent them losing a play-off against Union Berlin in his third and final year at the club as VfB were relegated.
Watch: Benjamin Pavard's top five tackles
The best ever?
Having stayed loyal to Stuttgart, it was now time for Pavard to take the next step in his career. He agreed a summer switch to Bayern in January, following the path taken by former France defenders Bixente Lizarazu and Willy Sagnol. Those two players enjoyed huge success in Bavaria in the late 1990s and first decade of the 21st century, and Pavard was out to do the same.
The early signs are good. Operating at right-back or centre-back, the new arrival has started all but one of Bayern’s first eight competitive matches in 2019/20. Signed largely for his defensive abilities, he nonetheless got a goal – a volleyed equaliser in the 6-1 win over Mainz – and an assist in his first five Bundesliga appearances.
The Frenchman seems to love Bayern, and the club love him back.
"He has already shown after a few weeks that he will be one of the best transfers that we’ve ever made," outgoing Bayern president Hoeneß told German TV channel Sport1 in September. "For me, what a player costs isn't what matters. It was clear to me that he could be an outstanding signing – particularly because of his great character."
A flexible Frenchman
On the pitch, Pavard offers Bayern quality cover in several positions. In the 1-1 draw with league leaders RB Leipzig, for example, he was tasked with keeping the likes of Timo Werner quiet down Bayern’s right channel.
A few days later, owing to an injury to David Alaba, Lucas Hernandez had to slot in again at left-back rather than at centre-half in the UEFA Champions League. Pavard moved into central defence and delivered a commanding performance in the 3-0 win over Red Star Belgrade.
"As long as I'm on the pitch, I'm happy and I enjoy myself,” Pavard told French magazine Onze Mondial in July. "If one day I have to play in goal, I'll play in goal. If I have to play in attack, I'll play in attack. I have no problem with that. I'm not a cheater – I just want to play and to give my all."
A model pro
As Hoeneß indicated, it's not just Pavard's footballing talent that has left an impression. His dedication to the game was evident from the age of nine, when he started making a 100 km round trip to Lille's academy four times a week. He had his parents to thank for getting there, and they used to travel six hours to watch him play in every Stuttgart home game.
He’s understandably close to his family as a result, as well as being calm and unassuming. But just because he’s not shouting from the rooftops doesn't mean that the summer signing is not ambitious.
"It's always been in me, forever – I want to be one of the best players in the world,” Pavard told L'Equipe soon after winning the World Cup with France. "I have lofty goals… I’m hungry for trophies. A world title won't satisfy me."
"You have to win, win, and win again," he continued. "I want to win everything. The World Cup several times, the UEFA Champions League, all the possible titles. I want to be a player with a huge number of honours."
Pavard's loyalty to Stuttgart was admirable, and now he's determined to succeed at Bayern. He told Sky in September that everyone had made his life easy on arrival, and that he has developed a "perfect" relationship with Kovac.
"Things are running smoothly between us," he said. "I felt straightaway that he had faith in me. I’m playing a lot and he speaks with me often."
The ball-playing defender hopes to strengthen the lines of communication even more by improving his German – a lot of his talking on the pitch is currently done in French. That’s another sign that Pavard has the right mindset to become a master of his craft.
"I'm very satisfied with him and his development," Bayern sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic told Sport1 after the Red Star game. "Since he's been here, his performances have been good and he’s been very professional."
An impressive potential
It’s one thing wanting to improve, but it's another actually doing it. Hitting a top speed of 20 miles per hour, winning over 60 per cent of his challenges and with a passing accuracy of 93 per cent so far this season, Pavard's raw numbers suggest he is on the right track.
Lizarazu, who won six Bundesliga titles, five DFB Cups and the 2000/01 Champions League with Bayern, knows what's required to succeed in Munich. He said he had swiftly learned that second best was never acceptable at the club, and indicated that that was something Pavard would have to get used to.
The 49-year-old has said in the past that Pavard would have to hit the heights that he did in last year's World Cup, but reiterated recently that he "has the talent to do that" in what is "a fantastic opportunity" at Bayern.
"I believe he has very good potential," Lizarazu – a 1998 World Cup winner with France – told Sport1. "He's very good technically. He can play on the right side, he can play central defence. I think he’s a clever guy.
"It's up to him. When you are a Bayern player, you have to work a lot. You have to win every four days. What is sure now is he's at a club where he can improve a lot. This is a fantastic step for him… I hope, for him, for the future, it will be fun."
A willing learner
Lizarazu felt he was like "the first man on the moon" when he arrived in Bayern, since he was the first French player to spend any great length of time with the club. Pavard doesn't have the same problem, with international teammates like Corentin Tolisso, Kingsley Coman and Hernandez helping him to settle in swiftly.
The 23-year-old famously went 16 games before losing a match with France, and relegation with Stuttgart does not seem to have dented his confidence. Likewise, though, praise from Hoeneß and elsewhere is unlikely to move him too much.
There have been highs and lows in his career, but now he is out to fulfil his obvious potential. Asked by Onze Mondial if there was an expression that summed him up, Pavard responded: "The sentence written on my shin guards. 'I never lose. Either I win or I learn.' That's a phrase that suits me."
It's easy to see why Hoeneß likes him.