Marcus Thuram's sparkling form with Borussia Mönchengladbach - and not his famous name - has earned him a France call-up. - © Lars Baron/Getty Images
Marcus Thuram's sparkling form with Borussia Mönchengladbach - and not his famous name - has earned him a France call-up. - © Lars Baron/Getty Images

Why Borussia Mönchengladbach's Marcus Thuram deserves to be called up by France


Marcus Thuram carries the weighty legacy of the name dad Lilian made in the game, but following his flying start to the Bundesliga and UEFA Champions League seasons, the Borussia Mönchengladbach forward has taken another step to emulating his famous father by being called up by France.

Lilian Thuram is a legend, there's no getting away from it. With 142 caps, he is Les Bleus' all-time leading appearance maker, a feat worthy of iconic status in itself even if he had not been a mainstay of the sides that reigned supreme over the world of football and then Europe in 1998 and 2000 alongside the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Marcel Desailly and Bixente Lizarazu.

It's a long shadow for any child to step out of, particularly if you - like Marcus - ignore your dad's urgings to try other sports and instead follow him into professional football. But as the Gladbach forward himself explains, while the media see Lilian Thuram the iconic ex-footballer, "I just see my dad."

Watch: All of Marcus Thuram's 2019/20 goals and assists

A name might get you noticed in the press, but it isn't enough to earn you a place in the squad of World Cup winners. Not nearly enough. And Lilian's former teammate Didier Deschamps - the man who captained France's two title-winning sides - has decided Marcus deserves his place on merit.

"Marcus is really progressing at the moment," explained the France boss. "I know that for his dad Lilian, it must be a very proud and happy moment. But that's not something that could have tipped the scales in Marcus's favour, compared to another player. It's nice to be making Marcus happy, first and foremost, because he deserves it. He just happens to have a famous dad, but he's not the first player in that situation, and he won't be the last. Lilian has three sons, and they're all football players!"

One of Marcus' younger siblings, Khephren, is already an established first-team player at French side Nice under another of Lilian's former international teammates, Patrick Vieira, so the Thuram dynasty may yet have another heir in the future. But for now, Marcus is flying the (corner) flag for the family.

There is no doubt his place among those who took French football back to the summit of the world game two years ago is fully deserved. Though he finds himself in the senior squad after just five U21 appearances, his fast-track to the highest level is supported by the numbers, not nepotism.

After playing a starring role in a Guingamp side relegated from the French top flight in 2018/19, Thuram made the step up to the Bundesliga with the same sort of effortlessness compatriot Alassane Plea - himself called up by France since coming into the Foals' stable - had shown 12 months earlier.

The French duo had their seasons cut short by injury, but joint-top-scored with 10 goals in the league. The pair contributed a combined 18 assists too, eight of them for Thuram, who - as Deschamps has seen - can give so much more to a team than out-and-out goalscoring.

Marcus Thuram and fellow Frenchman Alassane Plea have built a great understanding at Gladbach. - Mika Volkmann via images/Mika Volkmann

"He has a different profile to the other players I have at my disposal," explained the France coach. "Even if he can play as a centre-forward, he's more comfortable out wide, where he has more space."

Deschamps added: "Compared to what he was doing at Guingamp, his level is very high. He has the ability to break through the lines, to make the difference, to get goals and assists. I've obviously been keeping an eye on him for a while. He has another quality that I've seen on display when I've had the opportunity to watch him play, and this was already the case in Guingamp: In big games, against top teams, he has always performed well."

Neymar praise

That big-game character shone through as Thuram, who made his UEFA Champions League debut only this season, scored twice in the Matchday 2 draw with Spanish heavyweights Real Madrid to surpass by one the goals tally of his dad in 113 appearances in the competition. He had already shown it in January 2019 when - having missed a penalty - he stepped up to take another spot-kick in added time to give Guingamp a shock win over Paris Saint-Germain in the Coupe de la Ligue quarter-final.

"He told me I was a good player and to become a great player, you need character, and that he would have taken the second penalty and that I should take it," said Thuram of his on-pitch exchange with PSG superstar Neymar following the award of the second penalty. "He pushed me to go and take it. I don't know if he wanted me to miss the second one too. In any case, he encouraged me, and it's nice to be encouraged by a great player like him."

The plaudits have not only come from fellow players. "Actually, there's a player in the Bundesliga that reminds me of him," explained iconic ex-Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger when asked which current player makes him think of Thierry Henry, France's all-time leading goalscorer. "Marcus Thuram from Mönchengladbach. A very talented player."

Though he has played as a central striker, notably when Plea has been sidelined, Thuram's ability to play wide is something Gladbach boss Marco Rose wants to encourage. "He really wants to become a complete forward. We should continue developing him as a very versatile player."

'Fears his dad'

Versatility is another family trait chez Thuram. Lilian won his medals with France as a right-back, but always wanted to play in central defence. And though Marcus does not trade on his recognisable surname, the influence of his dad on his career and his outlook as a player is undeniable.

"I think he fears his dad a little bit, he's very demanding with him," explained Thuram's ex-boss at Guingamp, Jocelyn Gourvennec. "He's someone who loves football, loves training, he works, and he listens, he's intelligent and he applies himself, so [being called up for the senior squad] is a logical step."