Former Germany international Thomas Hitzlsperger has revealed the role he played in bringing France World Cup star Benjamin Pavard to Stuttgart.
Following a strong first season in the Bundesliga, Pavard has continued to impress at the World Cup in Russia - scoring a spectacular volley in France’s 4-3 win over Argentina in the last 16.
The 22-year-old, who can play at right-back or centre-back, has enjoyed a meteoric rise after forcing his way into the French squad by excelling in Germany.
Former Aston Villa, Stuttgart and West Ham midfielder Hitzlsperger - who now heads up the Swabian side’s youth academy - admitted that he had never heard of Pavard before the German club began looking into him.
“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,” Hitzlsperger wrote in a column for The Guardian. “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.”
Hitzlsperger said he will never forget Pavard’s debut for Stuttgart in October 2016, when he set up the first goal and scored the third in a win over Greuther Fürth. The adaptable Pavard helped his club earn promotion at the end of his first year in Germany, and last season he played every minute as they secured a comfortable midtable finish on their return to the elite.
France take on Belgium in the semi-final of the World Cup on Tuesday, and Hitzlsperger feels that this demonstrates that the player’s “risky move” had “fully paid off.”
“Benjamin is a humble guy but also someone who is confident and knows what it takes to reach the top – hence his decision to leave France and move to Germany’s second division,” the 36-year-old wrote.
Pavard was already being compared to Lilian Thuram - who won a record 142 caps for France - before his exploits this summer. Former Parma, Juventus and Barcelona defender Thuram has said he was aware of the youngster’s potential before he made his breakthrough.
“He played with my son [Marcus] at the under-19 European Championship in 2015 and I saw the matches,” Thuram told AFP. “Already at the time you could see he was a player for the future… for his age, he had great game intelligence and he was a very technical player.”