One to watch: Marcus Thuram
By S. Willis
Marcus Thuram is following in some pretty big footsteps - he is the son of France legend Lilian Thuram - but the powerful striker is establishing his own credentials with Coupe de la Ligue BKT finalists EA Guingamp.
Guingamp may be having a rough season of it - they have been rooted to the bottom of the Ligue 1 Conforama table since late August - but their season has a silver lining in the form a place in the Coupe de la Ligue BKT final against Strasbourg at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy in Lille on Saturday, 30 March.
And this fact is due in no small part to the heroics of Marcus Thuram, who proved he had the nerve and the skill for the big occasions as he hit the spot-kick that clinched the giant-killing win over Paris Saint-Germain - after having missed a penalty earlier in the match - in the quarter-finals.
The 21-year-old former France youth international (U17, U18, U19, U20) is the Brittany club's top scorer with a career-high seven goals (22 starts) - plus another four in cup competition (two in the Coupe de la Ligue BKT and two in the Coupe de France) - and is reportedly in the sights of such European clubs as Manchester United and Arsenal FC.
But who is the man behind the hype? Read on...
Back story: Not even one year old when his dad lifted the World Cup at the Stade de France in July 1998, Marcus Thuram has grown up in the shadow of his famous father. After playing in youth teams in the Paris region, he joined the FC Sochaux-Montbéliard youth academy at the age of 15, and made his senior debut in Domino's Ligue 2 in 2015.
After one full season in Sochaux's senior team, he made the switch to Guingamp in the summer of 2017. His first season was full of promise, with many seeing a bright future for him at the highest level despite his relatively meagre tally of three strikes for the season.
On the rise
Season 2018-19 has seen Thuram come into his own, with a career-best goal tally and milestones such as playing against his father's former Parma teammate Gianluigi Buffon, now with Paris Saint-Germain, in August 2018 before beating Buffon's protégé Alphonse Areola from the spot to knock the capital club out of the Coupe de la Ligue BKT.
With his father, who played with the best teams in France, Italy and Spain, keeping a watchful eye on his career, it will be no surprise if Marcus makes the switch to a big club at the end of the season - or if he one day receives a call-up for the France national team.
Style of play: Despite his 1.92m, 88kg frame, Thuram is a fleet-footed and mercurial prospect for defenders, no doubt thanks in part to his years spent playing as a winger before his move to Guingamp. A fan of beautiful football, he is sometimes criticised for a lack of killer instinct in front of goal, but this insouciant quality also held him in good stead as he held his nerve to score the penalty that knocked PSG out of the Coupe de la Ligue BKT.
What you didn't know: Born in the Italian city of Parma when his father played for the football club there, Marcus was named after Jamaican-born political activist Marcus Garvey, one of the earliest proponents of Pan-Africanism - a philosophy that looked to unify and connect people of African descent worldwide - and a key progenitor of the civil rights movement in the USA.
His father is not the only other footballer in the family: his cousin Yohann plays in goal for Le Havre and his younger brother Khéphren, 17, is a midfielder who has come up through the youth academy at AS Monaco - and who was on the bench as Marcus scored in the Coupe de la Ligue semi-final win over the principality club.
Best goal: It may be his most recent strike, but Thuram's superb effort in the 2-0 Ligue 1 Conforama Week 19 over Thierry Henry's Monaco showcased all of the skills he is known for - while also showing that he is improving in terms of his cutting edge. His nous saw him make just the right run after Monaco's corner was cleared and, thanks to a fine through-pass from childhood friend Ludovic Blas, his pace took him through to face Diego Benaglio, whom he deftly rounded before slotting home a clinical finish.
What he said:
"[When asked who the most famous person he knows is] M'Baye Niang and Éric Abidal. Why didn't I say that it's my dad? Because no-one knows who he is any more [laughs]! But seriously, thanks to him, I had a chance to spend time with some truly great players without really realizing what was going on. I had a pair of Lionel Mess's boots and I gave them to a friend. But now I'm starting to realise that all these players were really very humble guys."
What they said:
"He excels in getting past his man, thanks to his pace and excellent dribbling skills."
"[On the winning penalty against PSG in the Coupe de la Ligue BKT] I didn't ask him to take it - he went and took it himself! I thought that Yeni Ngbakoto [who had successfully converted the second penalty] would have another go. But Marcus wanted to step up and get it right. It was his choice; he assumed the responsibility. And that's great, as he's a young player who still needs to establish himself. He doesn't have a lot of Ligue 1 experience. And that's a great way to get it."
- EA Guingamp coach Jocelyn Gourvennec
"In front of goal, he needs to have more killer instinct. That's something he needs to work on; he needs to shoot more and get on the end of crosses. If he's out on the line, he can't score. His stats are a bit weak [two goals in 22 matches] but Marcus also provokes a lot of fouls and wins penalties, and these are stats that should be taken into consideration."
- Antoine Kombouaré, Thuram's first coach at EA Guingamp, in season 2017-18
"I predict a big future for him. He will be a great player!"
- AS Saint-Etienne coach Jean-Louis Gasset