VfB Stuttgart defender Benjamin Pavard has enjoyed a spectacular ascent from Bundesliga 2 hopeful to world champion in the space of two years. A 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 the French defender who’s on top of the world at just 22 years of age…
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 Munich 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 to make it
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) He’s a shooting star
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 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.
Not surprisingly, his rapid progress was rewarded with a new contract in December 2017, which ties him to the 2007 Bundesliga winners until 2021.
Watch: What makes Pavard so good?
4) Versatility has helped make him indispensable
Schooled as a centre-back, where he plays for VfB, Pavard is also able to operate at right-back – like he does for France – or in defensive midfield. That flexibility is a big plus and one of the reasons he played over 3,000 minutes of Bundesliga football in 2017/18.
Last season he was one of only four players in the entire Bundesliga not to miss a second of league action, alongside Matthias Ginter (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Naldo (Schalke) and Christian Günter (Freiburg).
“Here, defending is a way of life,” Pavard told Liberation in 2018. “You have to give it your all. Things can move quickly. If I stop working, I could disappear.”
5) He’s resilient
The only game Pavard missed in 2017/18 was a DFB Cup match – which Stuttgart lost in his absence – after the defender broke his nose in a 1-0 defeat to Bayern on 16 December. The injury came about as a result of a collision with teammate Chadrac Akolo, but the fighting Frenchman carried on playing until the end nevertheless.
He played in a protective mask in early 2018 as a result, and his presence in central defence was vital at the business end of the campaign as Stuttgart conceded only 10 goals in their final 14 Bundesliga matches.
6) 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 Didier 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.”
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.
The entire VfB Stuttgart Team wish @BenPavard28 all the very best for the @FIFAWorldCup quarter-final clash with Uruguay!❤️🇫🇷#Teamspirit #Motivation #FiersdetreBleus #FRAURU #VfB pic.twitter.com/m54xDROoWK— VfB Stuttgart_int (@VfB_int) July 6, 2018
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) His goals are worth watching
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.
Watch: Pavard's broke his Bundesliga duck in the south-west derby
He then got the whole world’s attention with that breathtaking equalising goal against Argentina. Leaning back as a cross from 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.
“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.”
9) He’s prone to tears of joy
Pavard is very close to his parents, who 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) He’s a World Cup winner unbeaten with his country… and hungry for more
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 under-19 to senior level.
But the 22-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. “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. “In two years, there’s the European Championship – I want to win it. 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. I’m savouring it but after that we’ll go back to battle.”