Schalke have bolstered their backline with the signing of Barcelona centre-back Jean-Clair Todibo, but who is the young Frenchman who so nearly had his career taken away from him by a car accident at just nine years old?
bundesliga.com gives you the lowdown on the new arrival in Gelsenkirchen, tipped for great things.
Position: Centre-back/defensive midfielder
Club: Schalke (on loan from Barcelona)
Country: France (5 caps for U20s)
Born in Cayenne on 30 December 1999, Todibo swapped the French Guinean capital for France’s at just four years of age. It was there that young Todibo first kicked a football and four years later he was with his first club FC Les Lilas in the eastern suburbs of Paris. After nine years in amateur football and with no academy background, Todibo was signed by Toulouse as a fairly late-blooming 16-year-old in 2016.
He would spend the next two seasons in the club’s reserves before making his debut for the Violets in the Garonne derby against fierce rivals Bordeaux on 19 August 2018. It would be a baptism of fire for the 18-year-old but one he thrived in as he helped Toulouse secure local bragging rights with a 2-1 win. Todibo was so impressive that he earned a standing ovation when taken off in the 90th minute.
He would end the 2018/19 season with 10 league appearances for Toulouse and scored his first professional goal against Stade Rennais with an 88th-minute equaliser that further endeared him to the club’s supporters. Across those 10 games, Todibo won an average of 1.8 tackles per game (85.7 per cent) and made 1.4 interceptions and 6.2 clearances per match.
That impressive start to his professional career caught the attention of Spanish powerhouse Barcelona, who made him the 22nd French player in their history in January 2019. International recognition followed in April that year, Todibo earning the first of his five France U20 caps in a game against Argentina. He went on to make his La Liga debut in the 0-0 draw with Huesca a month later and, in total, Barcelona conceded just once in his four appearances. In May last year, Todibo also featured in the FIFA U20 World Cup as France made it to the last-16 before being knocked out by the USA.
Did you know?
Todibo almost had his footballing hopes dashed as a nine-year-old after being hit by a car on his way to judo practice. At the time, he was thriving in both sports and was yet to definitively put his eggs in either basket before fate almost decided for him.
“It was May 24, I was nine at the time,” he told La Depeche. “I was leaving my house to go to judo, I crossed the road and a car knocked me down. It turned into a big accident. I had an injury on both my leg bones and down to the ankle, and there were several fractures. I’ve still got the scars, but it’s history now.”
Les Lilas coach Dylan Greneche later recalled: “We weren’t really sure if he’d ever play football again.” Thankfully, he has. Incredibly well, too.
Plays a bit like: Marcel Desailly
Todibo is superb on the ball, as highlighted by his ability to comfortably play in either defensive or central midfield, as well as his natural role in central defence.
But the young Frenchman probably puts it best himself: "I've been inspired a lot by Andrea Pirlo in central midfield, and also by Thiago Silva in defence." That really would make some footballing Frankenstein and one reminiscent of France legend Desailly. Toidibo’s pace, strength and technical ability serve as real reminders of Desailly at his best, as well as their shared ability to play in the centre of both defence and midfield.
What they’re saying
“Todibo is the best centre-back I’ve seen in a long time. He would be a good reinforcement for Schalke and an enrichment for the Bundesliga. At 20 he is incredibly calm, he always finds interesting solutions.” - Germany legend Lothar Matthäus
“He’s a great player, with a bright future and physical qualities. It's difficult to play for Barca, but he's learning fast." - Former Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde
"Just three years ago, I was in Lilas. I was training only with my older brother and now I find myself training with Leo Messi, Luis Suarez... it’s fantastic. If I had thought about this three years ago [...] I don’t think I would have believed it.” - Todibo on his remarkable rise