In the shadows, with futsal skills, Ben Yedder takes own path

Wissam Ben Yedder shares one thing with new French national team teammates like Paul Pogba, Kylian Mbappe, N'Golo Kante, Blaise Matuidi and Adrien Rabiot.

They all grew up playing soccer in the banlieues around Paris.

After that, their paths rarely crossed until Ben Yedder's first call-up at the age of 27 for France's World Cup warm-up matches against Colombia on Friday and Russia on Tuesday.

Ben Yedder was born to Tunisian parents and grew up in the northern suburbs of Sarcelles and Garges-les-Gonesse. But unlike Pogba and Mbappe, who were child proteges, he was a late bloomer.

Ben Yedder played on an amateur club Alfortville until he was 20, and his specialty was futsal. In 2009, he made his international debut for France -- on its futsal team -- and earned six caps.

World Cup 2018 friendlies

It took about a year and half before he broke through at Toulouse, but he used his futsal skills to develop a touch around the goal that earned him a call-up to France's U-21s. But until recently, his claim to fame on the national team front was for being one of five players who commandeered a taxi from Le Havre to Paris, two and a half hours away, for a night on the town in October 2012.

It happened to be when they were preparing for a key UEFA U-21 qualifier, and he was one of four players -- Antoine Griezmann among them -- who were slapped with a one-year national team ban for breaking curfew. A fifth player, Yann M'Vila, was banned for life. (Following player trouble at the 2010 World Cup and 2012 European Championship, the French federation was in no mood to go easy on these young players.)

The call-ups ended for Ben Yedder, but he continued to score goals -- 62 in four full seasons at Toulouse -- and earned a transfer to Sevilla in Spain. It took a while for him to adjust to play in La Liga, and he only starts about half the time for Sevilla. But Ben Yedder continues to score goals -- 15 in two La Liga seasons and 10 this season alone in the Champions League, where Sevilla has advanced to the quarterfinals for the first time.

Ben Yedder's two goals in four minutes off the bench at Old Trafford knocked out Manchester United and earned him the nickname "Big Ben" back in Spain. They came days before his first call-up to the national team, but Coach Didier Deschamps said they didn't influence his decision.

"I think all my work -- futsal, Alfortville, Toulouse and Seville -- was why I was called up," Ben Yedder told L'Equipe in an interview. "Old Trafford put a light on my work in the shadows."

Ben Yedder could have played for Tunisia, which will be playing in the World Cup finals for the first time since since Germany 2006, but he held out to play for France.

Competition is stiff to make the French World Cup team. France has Olivier Giroud and Griezmann up front along with Mbappe, who is usually used as a wide player but can play in the middle. There's also Alexandre Lacazette, who is injured, Nabil Fekir and Dimitri Payet. (And that doesn't even consider the attackers who play out wide. Besides Mbappe, there's Ousmane Dembele, Anthony Martial, Florian Thauvin and Kingsley Coman, who is injured.)

"It's my dream to be among the best," said Ben Yedder after being called up. "I want to be there because, above all, I love soccer."

The 5-foot-7 Ben Yedder will likely have to beat out Lacazette, who earned points with Deschamps when he scored two goals in a 2-2 tie with Germany in November, but he doesn't want to compare himself to other players.

"Everyone has their own path," he said.

6 comments about "In the shadows, with futsal skills, Ben Yedder takes own path".
  1. Tony Biscaia, March 23, 2018 at 8:16 a.m.

    Not criticism here, just trying to help:  Someone should look up the difference between "protege" and "progidy."  Sorry to sound snarky, I enjoy the work you all do.

  2. R2 Dad, March 24, 2018 at 2:09 p.m.

    Great goals vs M United in the CL recently. This picture just reminds me how unlikely Ben Yedder would be to play for the USMNT were he American. That picture with Pogba says it all. At 5'-7" he'd never get reps here, nor would Giovinco (5'-4"). The next camp for the friendly against Paraguay features Bobby Wood (5'-11"), Andrija Novakovich (6'-4"), and Rubio Rubin (5'-9"). According to USSF dogma, Rubin will get the least amount of time on the pitch because he's the shortest of the available attackers. OK, with a 4-2-3-1 it's unlikely a coach will play a short player up top, but ALL our attackers are bigger: Pulisic (5'-10"), Nagbe (5'-9"), Feilhaber (5'-9"), Altidore (6'-1"), Wondo (6'-0"). In order to improve, maybe we could start by NOT immediately eliminating players below 5'-9"? We know where these players go--Mexico. And why wouldn't they? Jonathan González, while not an attacker,is only 5'-7" and that's apparently reason enough not to make him welcome in Futbol El Norte.

  3. beautiful game replied, March 24, 2018 at 10:28 p.m.

    R2Dad, the decades of a backward USMNT selection process exposed to the nth degree.

  4. frank schoon, March 26, 2018 at 8:13 p.m.

    His foot skills shows he is good operating in small spaces ,quick with his feet all of which can be learned playing pickup soccer in small areas where so many kids learn to play in cities of France. Note most of his game was played on hard surface, meaning less running but quick foot skills.
    He is just another exampe of why we are developing our kids in the USA wrong.

  5. Bob Ashpole replied, March 27, 2018 at 1:08 a.m.

    Frank, I have been thinking about what you have said about unorganized play on hard surfaces. I came up with 3 factors. First, nobody wears cleats. Second, hard surfaces are very fast for the ball and therefore unforgiving of technical sloppyness. Third, the playing area is usually compressed, either in fact or by practice. Playing in a mixed age group makes physical maturity less available as a crutch too.

    That means the type of play rewards passing accuracy, good tactics (good positioning), quick movements (acceleration not sprinting), deceptive dribbling and good touch. 

    So now I think I understand why street soccer was so beneficial for you. 


  6. frank schoon replied, March 27, 2018 at 8:53 a.m.

    Bob, you hit the nail right on the head, PERFECTLY.  Because when you run on hard surface you are forced to THINK and strategize more. Also what I would recommend, as Cruyff so aptly states is that to play with flat shoes on grass. What that does is to make the player think more about all his actions in order not to slip or fall. He ,in other words will be very conscious of what has to do which is another way of making the player think about the game, his options, and more importantly what movements he does can contribute to his defender slipping and falling. Again , the kind of surface and the shoes you play can be so instrumental in to developing you as a player.
    THis is why players of my generation that grew up playing 'street soccer' were much smarter and savvy about the game for the conditions we played under made you think the game so much more. And this thinking lead  to having professional players  being so much smarter than today's players.

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