Diminutive Ben Yedder growing in stature
Wissam Ben Yedder, who first made his name at Toulouse FC, has been a star for AS Monaco so far this season. Can it earn him a place in France's starting line-up in Monday's Euro 2020 qualifier against Turkey?
In the absence of the injured Kylian Mbappé, Wissam Ben Yedder found himself on the teamsheet for France's 1-0 Euro 2020 qualifying win over Iceland on Friday night. A solid showing from the native of Sarcelles could well see him start once again on Monday, the reward for seven years of consistently high-level performances. The former Toulouse striker, now at Monaco after a successful stint with Sevilla in Spain, has matured from the taciturn youngster French fans first saw and is ready for more responsibility.
Futsal at the forefront of Toulouse's attack
Trained in futsal in the gyms of the Paris region, Wissam Ben Yedder discovered the world of professional football late - at the age of 20. Spotted by Toulouse FC, he signed for the Occitan club in the summer of 2010, when he already had several caps for the French futsal team. After two seasons of adaptation and a single goal in just over 270 minutes of play in Ligue 1 Conforama, the 2012-13 season saw him explode onto the scene. Alain Casanova installed him in his starting XI and the small striker (1m70) repaid the investment 15 goals and four assists in 29 starts.
Wissam Ben Yedder then turned in four high-level seasons, with 16 goals in 2013-14, 14 the following season and 17 in the 2015-16 campaign. In his last two seasons, Ben Yedder played a key role in keeping the club in the top flight with consecutive 17th-placed finishes.
When the time came to move away, Ben Yedder was linked to a number of high-profile French clubs but opted to join La Liga outfit Sevilla in the summer of 2016. During his three seasons in Spain, he proved that he could be effective on the continental stage, racking up 22 goals in 29 European matches with the Andalusian club. This included 12 goals in just 16 Champions League matches! Mostly used as a super-sub from 2016 to 2018, his final campaign before returning to French football saw him score more than 30 goals in all competitions.
A French international since the end of March 2018, Wissam Ben Yedder has made his return to Ligue 1 Conforama with a new status. And the desire to change people's opinion of him?
"Maybe I've evolved enough for some people and now they see me as a top player, maybe others don't think so. It doesn't matter to me. Really," he explained. "For me, there's something more important: the love of football. And doing what I know how to do: score goals. Statistics are real."
But precisely what do WBY's stats say about his development? Between his years with Toulouse and his start of the current campaign with AS Monaco - which has seen him score six goals in seven matches - Wissam Ben Yedder has notchanged his style. His possession stats are similar (33.4 per match compared to 33.8 with Toulouse), as are those for crosses (1.6). Although he shoots a little more (2.7 times per game compared to 2.3), Ben Yedder has mainly improved in accuracy. Whereas in the past he got 48% of his shots on target, this season has seen him produce a more surgical 78%. The best percentage in Ligue 1 Conforama! He now scores with 32% of his shots compared 18% with the Téfécé.
'I can be a leader'
It's not just out on the pitch that his Wissam Ben Yedder has matured; he has changed the way he behaves in the dressing room.
"I can be a leader. When things don't go well, I don't hide any more; I don't hide at all in fact. I don't want to retreat into myself anymore," he declared. "When things go wrong, I say so. I can even yell at people a bit [smile]. I arrived in Monaco with a new status. I have to do even more. It's not natural for me to bring out what's inside me, but I found a way to do it just the same.
The right time
More mature and able to put himself forward, Wissam Ben Yedder has won the faith of France coach Didier Deschamps. In the France squad for a third time in a row, he has settled and looking forward to locking down a place for Euro 2020. He has already bagged two goals in his six caps despite having started just the once - against Iceland on Friday - but is still hungry for experience. And with Mbappé out injured and Olivier Giroud struggling for game time with Chelsea, his opportunity could well have arrived.