Borussia Dortmund and Belgium full-back Thomas Meunier is so much more than your average footballer, and not only on the pitch: an art afficionado who plays as cleverly as he talks, and who loves a joke with Kylian Mbappe.
bundesliga.com gives you the broad brushstrokes to paint a picture of Dortmund's cultured Belgium international...
1) Just joking, Kylian
Meunier helped himself and PSG to three Ligue 1 titles during his four-year stint in Paris between 2016 and 2020, and had more than a bit-part role in a star-studded side.
Thirteen goals and 21 assists in 128 competitive outings more than hint at the right-back's early days as a forward as he fit snugly into a formidable attacking unit spearheaded by the likes of Neymar, Angel Di Maria, Mauro Icardi, Edinson Cavani and Mbappe.
He is well used to playing with world-class attacking talents with Belgium, notably Eden Hazard. But when the pair were due to come face-to-face in the UEFA Champions League group stage this season, Meunier's legendary sense of humour was kept in check. "I'm going to send him a message," said Meunier of his compatriot ahead of the match in Madrid in November. "But I'm going to careful not to make fun of him too much. He's in the sort of form that he'll enjoy taking it out on me on the pitch."
But while Hazard escaped Meunier's quick wit, the same cannot be said for Mbappe, despite the 2018 FIFA World Cup winner's legendary lightning fleet of foot.
2) Front to back, and back to front
Yes, Meunier used to be a striker. This self-confessed fan of Brazilian legend Ronaldo came off the bench to score on his debut for Club Brugge in July 2011, and totalled three goals in 26 appearances as a forward in his first season after joining from third division Royal Excelsior Virton.
He scored four goals the following season after coach Juan Carlos Garrido moved him to right-back, with the squad ravaged by injury. "He's an attacking right-back who still does things like a forward," said Michel Preud'homme, who also coached Meunier at Brugge. He ended with 20 goals and 22 assists in 198 competive matches for the Belgian outfit before Paris signed him.
Meunier's rise to the top has not — like so many players — been smooth. Rejection seems to be a common ingredient in those who succeed, and Meunier's signature disappointment came at Standard Liege. After a two-year spell at the 10-time Belgian champions' youth academy, Meunier was released in 2006. "For me, I was really lucky to have been kicked out by Standard," said Meunier, who had been bedevilled by injury. "That's what meant I became a professional footballer."
He also flew under the radar even after joining PSG. Meunier had barely had time to arrive in Paris than he was jetting off with the squad for a pre-season tour of the USA.
"No-one knew me. At the start, I was staying in a hotel, the same one as Patrick Kluivert," explained Meunier, who quickly made acquaintance with the former Ajax Barcelona, AC Milan and Netherlands international striker and PSG's freshly appointed Director of Football.
"To go to the airport for the flight to Los Angeles, I was sitting in the same car as him. I said 'hello', we spoke a bit, then he rather reluctantly asked me who I was. 'I'm a PSG player,' I told him. I spoke to him in Dutch to tell him I'd just played the EURO with Belgium and had just signed for PSG. He hadn't recognised me."
4) Art for art's sake
What many would have seen as a blow, Meunier saw as an opportunity to broaden his horizons. While working in a factory that made windows and windscreens near the Luxembourg border — and with his football career on the backburner — Meunier devoted himself to his real passion: art.
"You don't appreciate an artist for one work, there's a whole collection: Picasso, Rubens, Dali, Kandinsky, all different styles, but it's a great range and that makes them attractive," he explained to So Foot, adding that his creative side could help him settle quickly in Germany.
"I've always been able to adapt to different situations, that's perhaps something I've learned to develop thanks to art."
Watch: Thomas Meunier artfully hit a brace against Freiburg in 2021/22
5) Golden generation
Talking of art, Belgium might not have won the 2018 World Cup, but they certainly got as many — if not more — admiring fans than victors France for the way they played. Along with Hazard and his brother, Dortmund teammate Thorgan, ex-Wolfsburg man Kevin De Bruyne, former BVB midfielder Axel Witsel and a host of other top quality forward-thinking players, Meunier wowed the world with an unbridled brand of attacking football in Russia.
He played five of his country's seven matches, and who knows what would have happened had he not been suspended for the semi-final against France...?
Les Bleus' triumph did give Mbappe a chance to give his PSG teammate a taste of his own medicine. When Meunier posed with the World Cup trophy on Instagram, he invited comments asking, "I'm officially world champion, but champion of what?" Mbappe replied cheekily: "Of good football? Or of possession?"
Meunier did taste gold with Dortmund three years later, lifting the DFB Cup.
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