The little Stade Municipal in Les Lilas hasn’t modified a lot for the reason that first time Jean-Clair Todibo walked in 10 years in the past. It is nonetheless positioned on the backside of an enormous council property, with the primary pitch in the center and the coaching ones subsequent to it. It is a spot very acquainted to Todibo, who joined this small membership in the north of Paris, with a first-team at present competing in the fifth tier of the French league system, at just 6 years previous. He used to come and prepare right here two or thrice per week between then and the age of 16, when he left for Toulouse.
Two-and-a-half years in the past, Jean-Clair Todibo was nonetheless enjoying right here, captaining the under-17s. Now, the 19-year-old is about to line up alongside Lionel Messi at Barcelona subsequent season after agreeing to a deal to signal for the Catalan membership on a free switch this summer time.
Till the beginning of the 2018-19 season, Todibo had by no means performed knowledgeable sport in his life. Ten Ligue 1 games for Toulouse later, he is on his approach to Barcelona. It is a fairytale story that solely soccer (and particularly French soccer) can write. However how did the defender get right here?
With assist from former Tottenham and Liverpool director of soccer Damien Comolli, we present you a step-by-step information to a switch.
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“Les Lilas are a household membership, and Jean-Clair was a part of our household. We noticed him develop, develop, mature and turn into stronger and stronger. He was at all times very decided, pushed and impressive,” Les Lilas sporting director Bruno Coton-Pelagie, who has skilled the U17, U19 and first staff over the previous 20 years, instructed ESPN. “However he was a neighborhood child from the subsequent city over, Bagnolet, very respectful and hard-working. He was gifted, however he labored a lot to turn into higher and to make it to the highest.”
After a pause, Coton-Pelagie additionally admitted: “It’s an unbelievable story and one which you might not have predicted when he was 17. We by no means thought his rise can be so fast, however he deserves numerous credit score for making it occur.”
At 14, Todibo was not among the many greatest gamers in his Les Lilas staff. So he did what few children would possibly do in that scenario: He saved working. “When his coaching session with the Underneath-17s was completed, he was asking if he may prepare with the under-19s,” Todibo’s former coach Amadou N’Diaye stated to ESPN. “And he would do rather well with them as properly. After that, he would have a heat down, some stretching. He was so devoted, and he knew what he wanted and what he had to do to make it.
“He was not probably the most gifted, however he was probably the most decided.”
At 16, Todibo turned a lot stronger, and his expertise began to shine. “He was enjoying as a defensive midfielder, and he was wonderful,” Coton-Pelagie stated. “His older brother, Loic, was at all times behind him. He was doing his warm-ups earlier than coaching would begin. They might work after coaching. He was at all times pushing him and was actually strict and demanding. I assumed at instances that it was an excessive amount of, however Jean-Clair was relishing the challenges given by his brother. He wanted to work extra, to work tougher. And it paid off.”
The delight in Coton-Pelagie’s and N’Diaye’s phrases is obvious, as is the case with everybody else on the membership.
Todibo, a flexible, 6-foot-2 centre-back with tempo and nice technical skills, had trials at Manchester United, Le Havre and different golf equipment round Europe however signed for Toulouse in the summer time of 2016. There, he performed for the U-19 staff however wasn’t supplied knowledgeable deal till he made the breakthrough into the first-team this season. It took the membership two years to realise what a expertise they’d on their books, and by then it was too late: Todibo refused to signal. As a result, after solely 10 games, the defender was frozen out by Toulouse and hasn’t performed for the membership since Nov. three due to his contract scenario. (He seemingly won’t play once more.)
As soon as Barcelona made their curiosity clear, it was a simple selection. Only a few younger gamers refuse an opportunity to play at Camp Nou, and for those who suppose Todibo is apprehensive concerning the thought of becoming a member of such an enormous membership, you’re fallacious. After years of combating mentally and bodily on the tough pitches of the Parisian suburbs, after being run over by a automotive at eight years previous and fearing he would by no means play soccer once more (he has one leg longer than the opposite for the reason that accident) and after making an enormous impression on Ligue 1 regardless of his inexperience this season, he’s prepared for greater issues.
“[Todibo] has at all times hated shedding. As a child, he was so upset after a loss that I had to discuss to him for an hour to console him. It made him even hungrier,” N’Diaye stated.
This additionally comes from the schooling Todibo acquired.
“He had a strict upbringing. He was not the sort of child to be out on the streets late at night time. He was critical, with good manners. He labored properly at college and wanted to do properly at all the things he was doing,” Coton-Pelagie stated.
In some ways, Todibo is the brand new Raphael Varane, who was signed by Real Madrid from Lens as an 18-year-old again in 2011. He’s fearless, gifted and decided however has his toes firmly on the bottom. “A few months in the past, he got here again to see us on the membership. He got here to watch the primary staff play. He was there together with his mates, the identical mates as when he was right here, telling the identical jokes and speaking about the identical issues. He won’t ever change,” Coton-Pelagie stated with a smile.
For Barcelona, touchdown Todibo on a free switch is an unbelievable piece of enterprise, provided that he was being tracked by the likes of Liverpool, Manchester Metropolis and Manchester United. The affect of France legend Eric Abidal as technical director is obvious, with the French contingent on the membership swelling to embody Clement Lenglet, Samuel Umtiti and Ousmane Dembele. Plus, Adrien Rabiot is predicted to arrive this summer time.
In the end, Barca felt they might not afford to miss out on a expertise resembling Todibo; the teenager couldn’t miss such a chance, both. He won’t have it straightforward on the Camp Nou, because the competitors for locations shall be fierce, however given the place he was enjoying two-and-a-half years in the past, Todibo shall be given time to modify.
For Toulouse, nevertheless, seeing their prodigy go away on a free switch like that is onerous to swallow. The membership has determined not to speak about it publicly, however in personal, proprietor Olivier Sadran and the membership’s hierarchy are nonetheless furious.
“We made him a very good provide to signal his first skilled contract with us, higher than every other teen in our historical past, and but he did not need to signal. We want gamers who’re dedicated and invested,” Jean-François Soucasse, one of many membership’s two CEOs, stated in the native press a couple of weeks in the past.
Sadran, alternatively, has chosen solely to criticise Barcelona. “They have not behaved like an enormous membership,” he instructed L’Equipe. “And likewise, it is extraordinary: They declare that the participant shall be with them in July, however I do not know anybody who is aware of what is going to occur in six months. Life can spring surprises on you, even probably the most uncomfortable ones. It shows their conceitedness. From an enormous membership, it is not very gracious even when, legally, they’d the best to do it.
“We even have a number of the accountability,” he stated. “From my perspective, the participant has been badly suggested in the sense he has 10 Ligue 1 matches beneath his belt. Barca additionally have not lived up to what they need to be.”
Jean-Clair Todibo won’t care, although. He’ll maintain following his future and believing in himself, just like he did in Les Lilas when he was a child.