As said in the William Shakespeare play ‘Julius Caesar’: “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.”
One year ago, Florian Thauvin had just complete a season with Marseille in which he had netted 18 goals across all competitions – with 16 of those having come in Ligue 1 – and had amassed nine assists.
Now, 12 months on, the Frenchman is heading into the summer with his future firmly in limbo. He played just twice in the entire 2019-20 campaign, those being two 10-minute substitute appearances in a campaign ruined by injury problems.
There have been persistent reports from France as well as whispers from England that Milan are one of the teams in the running to land Thauvin.
Initially, some fans may think that signing a player off the back of a season virtually entirely ruled out due to an ankle ligament problem is a bad idea, but there are several reasons why it could be the perfect opportunity for Milan to seize their fortune.
1. The team’s needs
When analysing the idea of signing Fiorentina’s Federico Chiesa, we noted how if Milan had a right winger who could score 10 goals or more per season (easier said than achieved), then the front four would have contributed a combined 40 goals in 2019-20, as Rebic had 11, Ibrahimovic had 10 and Calhanoglu 9.
Essentially, the Rossoneri would do no harm by attempting to spread their attacking firepower and have a genuine goal threat on both sides of the pitch and down the middle. The pursuit of Chiesa and other wingers is no coincidence: Pioli knows that there are upgrades available on Castillejo and Saelemaekers, regardless of the guarantees they give regarding balance.
Thauvin is as out-and-out a right winger as you can get. In fact, Transfermarkt even state that he has made 200 of his 250 appearances in competitive football starting wide right, so he is a player who knows the position perfect.
The 27-year-old is a right winger who is left-footed. Instantly, that will get the Suso comparisons whirring in the heads of a lot of people, but Thauvin is a much more well-rounded player with far more strings to his bow.
He has everything that the Spaniard had in his prime at Milan; the technical ability, the dribbling, the quick feet, the intelligent turns, the cut-backs, the precision shooting and the vision, but in addition to that he has a better weak foot which allows the threat of a cut to the byline to be constant, and is a more physically imposing frame.
Those worried about the defensive work rate that Saelemaekers and Castillejo provide need not worry. For starters, a new right-back should be arriving which means the right side should look less vulnerable and as such a more adventurous and forward-thinking right winger should flourish.
Even still, there is plenty to suggest that Thauvin does just as much in his own half as either of the aforementioned duo. The video below shows how many attacks the former SC Bastia youngster starts from his own half with his clever footwork, reading of the game and physical side. All of those spring from being in a position providing defensive cover, too.
2. The track record
The 2019-20 season wasn’t kind to Thauvin, but there is actually a reason to believe that the injury is not a big worry. He suffered the ankle ligament issue last September and was ruled out until March, when he made those two brief appearances only for the season to be abandoned due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
That means that the France international has essentially had an extra four to five months of rest and recovery to ensure that his ankle has completely healed and is back to full strength, so that’s a big positive.
In terms of his actual record when fully fit, Thauvin has gone under the radar as one of the most productive natural wingers in European football.
During the 2016-17 campaign – when he had just secured his return to Marseille after a tough spell at a poor Newcastle side – he amassed 15 goals and 13 assists across 43 appearances in all competitions, with all of those goals coming in Ligue 1.
Determined to prove he wasn’t just a one-season wonder, Thauvin followed it up with 26 goals and 17 assists in 54 games in 2017-18. His 22 league goals were second only to Edinson Cavani (28) but ahead of players like Neymar, Falcao, Memphis Depay and Nabil Fekir.
Thauvin’s exceptional form continued into 2018-19, when as aforementioned he racked up a combined 27 goals and assists in all competitions, with 24 coming in the league alone (16G, 8A).
The calculations aren’t particularly difficult, but even half of that level of production would make Thauvin a big upgrade in terms of production on Castillejo, who has managed a total of 12 combined goals and assists (6G, 6A) in 60 appearances across all competitions in his last two seasons at Milan.
3. The opportunity
This is where the Shakespeare quote really comes in. The circumstances described above, i.e. the injury problem last season and the fact he has just one year left on his contract, means that Thauvin is reportedly available for around €20m or less.
Even after an injury-troubled campaign, Transfermarkt have his valuation at north of €33m, and that is because he has proven over the last four years that he is a player who guarantees goals and assists.
He may be five years older, but Thauvin brings experience in European competitions and far more evidence of certified attacking productivity than Chiesa, who would cost at least €30m more.
The idea of having Thauvin starting wide right as a player who could comfortably amass 10+ goals per season – in addition to a rejuvenated Hakan Calhanoglu and Ante Rebic to his left and the ability to feed Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the centre – is a mouth-watering proposition.
It seems as though Milan do not have an endless treasure chest to go out and lure fantasy targets like Ousmane Dembele or Gareth Bale, but what they can do is make smart pick-ups on players that are destined for a change of scenery, like happened with Theo Hernandez, Rafael Leao and Ismael Bennacer.
For as much as it would cost to sign Serge Aurier – another Frenchman apparently worth €20m – Milanello could welcome a player who in his last three full Ligue 1 seasons has scored 53 goals and added 27 assists in 104 appearances.
Quality and a proven track record like that rarely comes so cheap, and his game is tailored towards giving another few seasons at the highest level.
Some moves in ‘the tide in the affairs of men’ are calculated risks, and this would fall perfectly into that category.