L ilian Ruddy Thuram-Ulien was born on 1 January 1972 in the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. His father had never been part of his life and at the age of five his mother made the pivotal decision to leave the young Thuram behind with friends and relatives in order to migrate to France in search of work. Eventually she was able to bring the family (all five children) to Fontainebleau, on the south-east outskirts of Paris, in search of a better life. As a child Thuram was an ardent student of religion and even considered becoming ordained into the Catholic Church. Whilst he was noted for his studiousness, it seemed apparent to others that he was rather more suited for a career in athletics - with a particular penchant for the middle-distance race.
When not studying the bible or attempting to break the 4 minute mile, Thuram was playing football with fellow immigrants from Portugal, Pakistan, North Africa and the Middle East on the streets of Fountainebleau dreaming of playing for the Franch National Team like fellow immigrants Tigana and Tresor (also born in Guadeloupe). His talent self-evident, Thuram soon started playing in a more formal setting - being asked to feature for 'Portugais FC' a team made up of immigrants. At the age of 16, what had started out as a kick about with friends soon became a viable career opportunity when during a fifth division championship game, a scouting party sent from AS Monaco (managed by Arsene Wenger at the time) discovered him and decided to take him south to Monaco.
Thuram was just 17 years old when he was brought into the Monaco first-team squad but very soon after making his debut he picked up a season ending injury, making a solitary appearance during the 1990-91 season (in which Monaco finished second in the league and won the Coupe de France). Thuram struggled to recover from what was the first injury of his budding career, failing to impress his reserve coaches but the First Team Manager's trust in his ability was unwavering. Arsene Wenger reminded him that ‘I am your manager’, reassuring the young man that ultimately he made the final call and that Thuram would eventually find his way back to the firm team.
It didn't take long for Wenger to find room for Thuram. The season after he was officially promoted to the first team and he would go on to make 19 appearances at centre-back in a season where Monaco finished empty-handed as they finished runners up in the League (finishing behind Marseilles once again) and the Cup Winners Cup (in a 2-0 loss to Werder Bremen). However if Thuram thought he had now obtained full confidence of the manager, he was to be mistaken. Whilst Thuram's athleticism and mentality was already that of an elite footballer, he was awkward in possession and furthermore his aggressive desire to win the ball meant he was susceptible to positional errors - which in central defence often proved fatal.
This was at odds with Wenger's tactical philosophy which revolved around playing brisk, progressive football - playing with the ball on the floor and the use of quick passes to find the space. Perhaps it was Lilian's studious nature off the pitch - a trait which Arsene could certainly relate to - but something convinced him to persist with Thuram, taking the youngster aside for one v one coaching sessions... as well as tailoring the team's defensive sessions to practice playing out from the back - specifically admonishing Thuram whenever he received the ball and proceeded to pass it back to the keeper instead of going forward.
During the 1992/93 season Wenger's tireless efforts were beginning to bear fruit and Thuram was now a permanent fixture in the first team. He was to make 43 appearances that season (37 of them coming in Ligue 1 alone) as Monaco finished 3rd in the league and could only reach the round of 16 in both the Coupe de France and European Cup Winners Cup. Results wise this was a significant step back for Monaco but it was hardly surprising when their leading goalscorer George Weah was sold in pre-season to rivals PSG. Weah's transfer wasn't the only news to send shockwaves through French football as it became apparent that long reigning league champions Marseilles (who had pushed Monaco into 2nd for the previous two seasons) were guilty of fixing fixtures in order to ensure their team was well-rested for European fixtures. T
The ramifications for Marseille were severe. They were still allowed to retain their Champions League title but were prevented from entering the tournament again as defending champions. This was the first and only time in European Cup history in which the defending champions did not participate in the following season of the competition. he news was particularly galling for Arsene Wenger, who had persistently raised accusations of foul play only for it to fall on deaf ears. Third-placed Monaco took the vacated French berth (second-placed Paris Saint-Germain, who refused the defaulted French title, competed in the Cup Winners' Cup instead as Coupe de France winners).
In what was increasingly becoming a bitter-sweet tenure for Arsene Wenger (finishing 9th in the league), Monaco made waves in Europe, defeating AEK Athens, Steaua Bucharest in the early knock-out stages to qualify for the Group Stage. Their group contained Barcelona, Spartak Moscow and Galatasaray. Thuram was in his element in the Champions League, utilising his pace and power to mark out the most dangerous of forwards, capable of going toe to toe with the likes of Romario and Stoichkov. Ultimately Monaco fell short against Barcelona, but Thuram had forced Barcelona to seek goals from other areas of the side - he was not going to let their star attackers wreak havoc.
Nevertheless Monaco had done enough against the weaker sides in the group to qualify for the semi final against heavyweights AC Milan at the peak of their powers. They would face off in a one-legged tie played at the San Siro (UEFA introduced one legged semi-finals taking place after the group stage, meaning the two sides qualified from each group as group winners playing the semi-finals at home.) In a one-sided affair, Capello's Milan defeated Monaco 3-0 with goals from Desailly, Albertini and Massaro - setting up an iconic clash with Barcelona in the 1994 Champions League Final.
Wenger's departure early into the 1994/95 season led to Monaco falling into freefall. Whilst Thuram started in nearly every league game and a young Thierry Henry was beginning to break through ultimately the team was lacking the experienced heads of the late 80's side and was rudderless, finishing 6th in the league and an early exit in the Coupe de France.
Thuram and Monaco would find their feet again the following season, finishing third in the league under the stewardship of French idol Jean Tigana. Thuram was now capped by the national side in newly appointed manager Aimé Jacquet’s fourth game in charge and formed part of a new nucleus of gifted French players led by the technically blessed defensive sweeper Laurent Blanc, arguably the world's leading defensive midfielder in Marcel "Rock" Desailly (who would operate in Thuram's favoured position of centre-back) and the mercurial Zinedine Zidane. Their first challenge? Euro 1996.
After the dramatic failure to reach USA 94, star men David Ginola and Eric Cantona were no longer a part of the national team. The French missed neither as they took down Romania in their opening game, with Youri Djorkaeff, aided by Thuram's decoy overlapping run, putting in a chaos-inducing cross which allowed Christophe Dugarry to take the spoils.
Thuram next started against Bulgaria, playing a restricted role on the right side of defence. This was a prescient tactical decision taken by Aimé Jacquet as whenever Stoichkov beat Desailly in a 1 v 1 situation, Thuram would tuck in next to the centrally placed Blanc to provide an extra layer of security. This led to a stalemate in open play, with headers from Blanc and an own goal by Penev from Djorkaeff's set-piece deliveries putting France 2-0 ahead before Stoichkov responded with ferociously curled in a trademark free kick to make it 2-1. With news elsewhere ruling out any chances of qualification for Bulgaria, Loko sealed the deal by making it 3-1.
France were favourites against a Dutch side low on confidence. With Hiddink mindful of how open their defence had been against England, Seedorf and Davids were benched for the encounter at Anfield and the midfield was set up in a diamond shape allowing the Dutch to match up to France's Christmas tree. Thuram played solidly in defence, if rather muted on the overlap and it was not until extra time was in sight that the match finally sparked into life. France looked the more committed to grabbing the golden goal but could find no way past the indomitable Edwin van der Sar until it came to spot kicks. Each team had scored three apiece by the time Seedorf was denied by Lama. Laurent Blanc stumbled as he struck his shot but it was accurate enough and France were through.
In yet another dull affair, Thuram was relatively unconcerned in defence until just after the half time interval he was involved with a nasty aerial collision with his direct opponent Vladimir Smicer, leaving the Czech with a concussion that forced him off the pitch. Patrick Berger who was to sign for Liverpool after the tournament came on as the substitute and he and Poborsky would occasionally switch wings in order to take turns against Thuram. The Frenchman was caught out on a few occasions, his inexperience in the right back position showing at times, but ultimately none of his errors proved fatal and the game once again went to penalties where the Czech ran out winners, finally putting an end to the unbeaten run of the French.
Rookie coach Carlo Ancelotti, who had just won promotion with Reggiana the previous season had been asked to take over from Nevio Scala. Financially backed by the wealthy Tanzi family, Ancelotti had his eyes on Thuram, scouting him closely during the Euro's. He was deeply impressed with how the Frenchman had coped with playing out of position on the flank and envisaged a tailor-made role for him at Parma as a right sided centre-back.
Behind Thuram would be 18 year old Gianluigi Buffon who was named as the starting goalkeeper after a string of spectacular cameo performances during the 1995/96 campaign against the likes of Roberto Baggio and George Weah, Next to Thuram would be a certain Fabio Cannavaro who had just signed from Napoli the season before.
Thuram's debut season was almost a dream come true as he racked up over 40 appearances for Parma, cementing his place in the team with some breath taking performances and even scoring a rare goal, The Ducali pushed bitter rivals Juventus all the way to the finish line, almost winning the clubs first ever Scudetto, with their new-look strike force Crespo and Chiesa running amok up front and supported by a superb rearguard effort by their young defence.
Thuram's second season with Parma was one of disappointment, he would part ways with the man who brought him to the Tardini as Carlo Ancelotti was shown the door, Parma finished a disappointing sixth in Serie A as well as being knocked out of the Champions League at the group stages, despite the poor campaign, Thuram continued to impress with some dominant performances as he prepared for the 1998 World Cup in France.
Amidst the team’s preparations for the tournament, French right-wing politician Jean-Marie Le Pen’s controversial comments had managed to make headlines. He had said he didn’t recognise the French team because it had “too many black players”. Thuram was one of many to speak up against him. “They did not choose Barthez because he is white, they did not choose Thuram because he is black. They chose Barthez and Thuram because they are French.”
France began the group stage with a 3-0, pressure-relieving victory against South Africa in Marseille. They followed it up with a free-flowing yet ill-tempered display against minnows Saudi Arabia. France struggled in the first half against a 10 man Saudi Arabia, despite being 1-0 up. Thuram, eager to liven up proceedings, embarked on a courageous run down the right flank, holding off two defenders before rolling his foot over the ball and instinctively chopping back, leaving them both for dead and proceeding to whip in a menacing cross with his left foot which grazed off Trezeguet's forehead and narrowly past the post.
He then created a second chance with his weaker foot, lifting it up for an open Zidane to chest by the edge of the box and unusually volley. it miles over the bar. Frustrated by his team mates profligacy in front of goal and feeding off the crowd's nervous energy, Thuram took it upon himself to surge through the Arabian defence and ferociously strike at goal, narrowly missing the target but laying down the foundations for future exploits.
Finally at what was the fourth time of trying, Thuram once again in possession on the right flank, befuddled a couple of markers with a fake left foot cross, turning back to surge down the line before whipping in a curled cross in the corridor of uncertainty, causing the keeper to flat the cross and allowing Trezeguet to make amends and put the ball in the back of the net ... 2-0. France eventually ran out 4-0 winners but not before Zidane petulantly kicked out at a Saudi Arabian player after a late tackle, and earning himself a two-match suspension.
After being rested for the final group game against Denmark, Thuram was fully focused for the round of 16 game versus Paraguay. Zidane's absence would prove to be telling in a game of few quality chances in which both defences dominated the narrative. Even when the solitary (golden) goal did come to finally separate the two sides, it was in extra time and scored by a defender, France's captain - Laurent Blanc. With teams wising up to France's lack of width, Tutu' now recognised that if he could be an actual threat with the ball, he could force markers away from what was a very congested midfield and give France a genuine tactical alternative to overworking Lizarazu by always building up down the left flank.
France's next opponents were FIFA 1994 World Cup runners up Italy. The Italians had built a formidable side, with a defence every bit as talented and organised as their French counterparts. The Italians had the best chance of the first half when a lobbed pass from Del Piero found the in form Cristian Vieri who towered above Thuram power down a header at the near post only to see the eccentric Fabian Barthez get a toe to it and turn it round the post.
The error seemed to bring Thuram to life as he began to boss the right flank, rendering Del Piero ineffective to the extent he was eventually subbed off for the 'Divine Ponytail' Roberto Baggio. Baggio also struggled to get any change out of the Thuram/Blanc axis and subsequently decided to come in off the right flank where he nearly scored in extra time with a sumptuous over-the-shoulder volley across the goal, As the game drifted to penalties, the host nation held its nerve as four of its five penalty-kickers found the net during the nerve-jangling shootout, to only three for Italy.
The Semi Final would paint a persistently false narrative of Thuram as an all-round right back who was equally comfortable in attack as well as defence. Nothing could have been further from the truth, as even his own colleagues on the night were astonished as to the identity of their goal scoring savoir. Nevertheless what the night did prove was that Thuram was a majestic competitor, a man who possessed the resolve to dig deep within himself and come up trumps... defying expectations to become the least likeliest candidate for the most influential big match attacking performance by a full-back of all time.
Prior to kick-off, Thuram calmly had his customary superstitious bowl full of salad, utterly oblivious to the feverish national commotion surrounding the game. France went into the semi-final on home soil with their best chance of attempting to reverse the so-called jinx that had led them to be eliminated at that stage on three previous occasions: 1958, 1982 and 1986.
Once the game got started, the expectant Stade de France mostly groaned in frustration in a first half that produced little action. Zidane was unsurprisingly France's biggest threat, especially from long range with one sumptuous volley from 25 yards particularly catching the eye but his support cast was wilting under the pressure. Having successfully subdued the buoyant French crowd, Croatia increasingly felt confident that they weren't here to just make up the numbers.
Less than 25 seconds after the start of the second half an overzealous Thuram scrambled back to his defensive berth to deal with a Croatian counter but failed to realise his fellow defensive colleagues had all pushed up to play the deadly Davor Suker offside. Responsible for the goal which could destroy the hopes of an entire nation, the pressure on Thuram's shoulders was spine crushing... his life flashed before his eyes...the suffering to get here, the suffering he'd have to endure if the scoreline remained as it was.
He had to do something, he had to make amends... losing simply was not an option. Blood raging through his veins, his head about to explode... he stormed towards the opposition penalty area and opportunistically stole the ball off an unsuspecting Zvonmir Boban, anticipated the return pass from Djorkaeff and drilled it with his favoured right foot into the back of net. Ecstasy. Scenes.
Thuram's disbelieving team mates mauled him in celebration, half checking if it was really 'Tutu' or an impostor in disguise.Thuram kept replaying the defensive error in his head, again and again... for further fuel. With the Stade de France rocking and roaring every French attack, the 'Guardian of Guadalope' decided it was time to embark upon another gallop forward and finish this redemption arc once and for all. He tried to play a one-two with former Monaco apostle Thierry Henry but the experienced Roberto Jarni was wise to it and intercepted, only for Thuram to sucker-punch the Croatian by curling the loose ball first time with his weaker foot... right into the bottom corner. 2-1. Lillian 'Tutu' Thuram of all people with a brace in a World Cup Semi-Final and France on their way to a first World Cup Final against the favourites Brazil.
Brazil's World Cup Final preparations were rocked by rumours that their star striker Ronaldo had suffered from a serious convulsion which left him frothing at the mouth hours before kick-off. With the Brazilian camp in disarray, France were seeking to take advantage. Aime Jacquet saw a weakness on defending set pieces from Brazil and instructed Zidane to go at the near post exploiting the fact that the Brazilians weren't renowned for their aerial prowess on corners.
This proved to be particularly prescient as Zidane powered home two headers. Zidane and Ronaldo may have been the headline acts but both finalists also possessed the most accomplished pair of full backs in world football. Inspite of the result It was actually the Brazillian pair who were more influential in this particular game and perhaps for the wider game in general but it was Thuram who would win the Bronze Ball as the third most valuable player in the tournament.
Alberto Malesani was the man Tanzi chose to replace Ancelotti at the helm of Parma. Despite Thuram's World Cup displays Parma managed to keep hold of the Frenchman's services and the two were about to have the domestic season of their lives. Malesani opted to go for an adventurous 3-2-3-2 formation for the majority of the 1998/99 season with Nestor Sensini sweeping, Cannavaro and Thuram playing alongside him as side-centre backs. If you managed to get by that lot then you had to try and put the ball past Buffon whose reputation was growing by the day.
At the other end, Crespo and Chiesa were being supplied the ammunition by Argentine playmaker Juan Sebastain Veron who had also come off the back of a fantastic World Cup. Parma would lift two trophies to add to Thuram's World Cup winners medal, firstly overcoming Fiorentina to lift the Coppa Italia before the memorable night in Russia with a UEFA Cup triumph in Moscow when l'gialloblu destroyed Marseille 3-0. In the space of 10 months Thuram had been in three finals winning the lot.
Despite hoping to build on the cup triumphs from the previous season, Parma did not manage to compete for a much-vaunted first Serie A title, which still proved elusive - not helped by the fact that they had controversially sold Juan Sebastian Veron to fellow title contenders Lazio after only one season. In fact they failed on all fronts, knocked out of the Champions League at the qualifier stage by Rangers (a Cannavaro sending off in the first 30 minutes proving costly), the fourth round of the UEFA Cup by Werder Bremen and the round of 16 of the Coppa Italia by Caligari.
Despite the team's performance falling off a cliff and Cannavaro in particular struggling to match the lofty heights of previous seasons, Thuram's performances were still of a high calibre and weren't going unnoticed. In the summer of 2000 Lazio came calling. Having taken Veron the season before and having now managed to lure star striker Heran Crespo to the Olimpico in a deal worth £35.5m,.. Parma were determined not to lose another one of their stars and managed to persuade the World Champion to stay at the Tardini - for now...
Aime Jacquet's men went to EURO's as heavy favourites to add the European Championship crown to their 1998 World Cup and become the first team since the German's in the 70's to do so. In the opener against a determined Danish outfit, Thuram and Blanc were caught jumping for the same ball, cancelling each other out and allowing Jon Dahl Tomasson to get in behind an isolated Desailly - only to fluff his lines against Barthez.
This was followed by a replica situation in which a long ball aimed in between the gap and right back and centre back was met with a weak Thuram header having just beaten Blanc to the ball, leading to another easy Danish chance to score which once again went begging. Blanc eventually got his act together and scored the first goal after starting off a sweeping move built from the back, another addition to his growing collection of key tournament goals. Despite a spirited fight back from Denmark, France ran out 3-0 winners with further goals from the irrepressible Henry and his Arsenal colleague Wiltord.
In the second group game, against the Czechs, Thuram was fortunate to not be sent off after a crude challenge on Rosicky. Still in possession of 11 men, France took the lead through Henry. The Czech's came back into the game after Deschamps failed to track Rosicky's drive into the box and had to resort to fouling the Czech - giving away a penalty. In the second half, the in-form Henry was involved yet again as he drove down the left wing and pulled it back for Djorkaeff to blast it home to make it 2-1. With the Czechs finally put to the sword, France rang the changes for their final group stage encounter, with Thuram rested against the Netherlands.
Thuram came back into the side for the enthralling encounter against a cerebral Spanish outfit featuring the metronome Pep Guardiola, the industrious yet wonderfully gifted Gaizka Mendieta and european footballs most feared striker Raul. Tutu started the game on the front foot, taking the game to La Roja by pressing high up the pitch and winning a dangerous free kick (which was narrowly headed over by Viera) within the first 5 minutes.
Unfortunately his eagerness to prove himself offensively led to him being caught napping during a proposed French offside trap, lazily playing the deadly Raul onside only to see him fortunately foiled by the acrobatic Barthez who tipped the Spaniards well-executed lob over the bar. It was almost a carbon copy of Suker taking advantage of Thuram during that titanic World Cup semi-final in Paris. Putting the early scare behind them, France deservedly took the lead after Zidane curled in a majestic free-kick from 25 yards.
Spain responded to the early blow positively, winning a penalty almost immediately after the celebrations for France's opener had ceased. The culprit? Thuram - who had clumsily took away the legs of the nimble Munitis inside the box. Mendieta duly converted the penalty to make it 1-1. To wrap up what was a pulsating first half, France regathered the lead shortly before the break with a wonderfully slick attack which was finished off by the ever-reliable Youri Djorkaeff. The second half was another see-saw affair but with no clear efforts on goal.
Thuram was in the thick of the action yet again with some enterprising forays forward before once again letting his side down with an ill-judged header back to the keeper which Barthez spilled into the path of Abelardo. Trying to regather the ball instantaneously, Barthez brushed the legs of the wily Spaniard who stumbled and fell, earning the Spaniards the chance to take the game into extra time. Thuram could barely look his team mates in the eye, his performance plagued with a series of defensive blunders which on this night he had not been able to make amends for. With Mendieta subbed off after 57 minutes, it was left to Raul to take the last minute penalty but he cracked under the pressure and sent the penalty soaring over the bar and Spain out of the Euro's at the Quarter-Final stage yet again.
Lemerre's men went into the semi-finals confident but wary of the threat posed by the 'Golden Generation' of Portugal. Thuram retained his spot at right back despite his nightmare performance in the quarters. He started the game positioned high up the pitch, and along with Lizarazu was tasked with forcing the likes of in-form Figo to help out in defence and disrupt his attacking rhythm. However against the run of play, a rare Portuguese counter which was on the verge of break down suddenly turned into a goal-scoring opportunity when surprise package Nuno Gomez pounced on the loose ball and smashed it on the turn with his weaker foot on the half-volley...evading a shell-shocked Barthez. 1-0 Portugal.
The half time break proved the turning point as France came out with a renewed vigour and sense of purpose. Thuram would play a pivotal role in the equaliser - intelligently linking up with Zidane down the right before playing a perfectly weighed through ball into the path of Nicholas Anelka who turned sharply in the box before setting up Henry who quickly shifted the ball before punching it through the legs of Couto...tucking it away into the bottom corner to make it 1-1.
Portugal battened down the hatches taking the game into extra time. France remained on the front foot, eager to claim the golden goal, with Henry at the forefront of their attacks but instead the best chance fell to Portugal when João Pinto fired narrowly wide after a powerful run from Figo. Then came the decisive penalty, Abel Xavier blatantly hand balling the ball on the near post and preventing a certain golden goal. In the ensuing melee Nuno Gomes' aggressive protestations brought a red card and then Zidane duly converted to send France to a consecutive final in a major international tournament.
Thuram faced some of his Serie A colleagues and rivals in the final against Italy. The Italian's set up in their customary 3-5-2 system with Maldini providing the width down the left. The game started at a frantic pace with both sides looking to commit numbers forward. Such was the quality of the defences however, both teams cancelled each other out until the start of the second half where after France failed to clear their lines after a corner, Delvecchio reacted to a Desailly error to score from a beautifully whipped second phase cross. With France pushing for an equaliser, the Italian's nearly made it 2-0 in a matter of minutes when Del Piero exploited Thuram's lack of positioning to get on the end of a Totti through ball only to fire it narrowly wide when one v one against Barthez.
The Italians then defended resolutely as Italians do, only to concede a last ditch equaliser scored by Wiltord, who shot across the goalmouth from a tight angle - piercing Nesta's legs and blindsiding the hitherto fantastic Francesco Toldo. The game was soon settled in extra time after a wonderful slaloming run by Pires and a thundering half-volley by David Trezeguet that broke Italian hearts once and for all. France joined illustrious company in having the rare honour of being back to back World and European Champions. For Thuram it had been a legacy defining tournament in terms of his trophy cabinet but under the surface he had been in very poor form and had been a defensive liability.
With Crespo sold and Amoroso feeling the pressure, Parma faced a striking crisis going into the 2000/01 Season. Whilst Parma managed to reach the final of the Coppa Italia, they yet again failed to mount any kind of Scudetto challenge and were also knocked out of the UEFA cup in the fourth round. Parma did battle to a fourth spot and secured qualification to the Champions League but it had become apparent that Parma were not on the verge of challenging for major silverware any time soon. With the club facing bankruptcy in any case it was mutually decided that Thuram would play out his last season in the Parma colours along with Buffon.
Parma accepted and Thuram became the most expensive defender in history, overtaking the previous record of the £18m that Leeds had paid to West Ham for Rio Ferdinand
Juventus offered £25m for Thuram's services. With Marcello Lippi at the helm, Juventus already had a defence that was notoriously stingy and in addition to the Frenchman, they decided to secure Buffon on a world transfer record for a Goalkeeper as well. Thuram had the chance to sign for Juventus straight from Parma but rejected it as he hadn't felt ready, but he was now an experienced defender with a glittering international trophy cabinet - his new-found unquenchable thirst for silverware had now extended to the domestic scene.
In his debut season with the club, Thuram won his first 2001–02 Serie A title, whilst also reaching the final of the 2001–02 Coppa Italia, ending a three-year drought of league titles, following a remarkable turnaround in fortunes during the final days of the season, when Inter suffered from a collapse of nerves in the closing stages. On the final day of the league season, Juventus won 2–0 away from home against Udinese, while Inter fell at Lazio 4–2, despite leading twice.
In the Champions League, Juventus finished last in their group during the Second Group Stage. Thuram had been deployed at centre back for the majority of the European campaign but after a poor showing against Arsenal at Highbury he lost the trust of Lippi as a central defender and was dropped for the remaining games, a ruthless call which did nothing to change Juve's fortunes. Keen to find a way to fit the Frenchman in, Marcello Lippi utilised him at right back where his lapses in concentration wouldn't prove as fatal.
No team had successfully defended the trophy since Brazil had followed up their victory in 1958 with another in Chile in 1962. But something just was not right in the French camp. Zidane, their talisman, was racing to be fit for the tournament after picking up an injury in a needless friendly the week before kick off. Without him, the team looked lost. When Zidane was forced to miss a game at the 1998 finals because of suspension the team bonded even more, determined to win in his absence so he could return and lead them to victory.
This time that was not the case as they crumbled and exited the tournament without a win – or even a goal – to their name. Thuram admitted that it was the players as a collective that were at fault, rather than blaming their early exit on Zidane’s absence. It did nothing to tame the disgust of the French people, however, who treated their players to a harsh welcome when they returned from Asia.
At club level, in his second season Thuram began to find his feet. He was now a fixture in the right back position though he did feature in the odd game in a central berth. Thuram had always envisaged himself as a centre-back but it was beginning to hit home that he didn't quite have the requisite tools to be an elite central defender in the mould of a Maldini and if he was to carve out a legacy as a great of the game, he was best placed to focus on the position where he had made his name in the international arena. Juventus started the season by winning the 2002 Supercoppa Italiana against Thuram's former club Parma.
This didn't necessarily translate into winning form on the domestic front however as Juventus found themselves trailing in fourth in the championship race. On 22 December, a late Mauro Camoranesi goal at Perugia put an end to their longest winless streak and it proved to be the turning point as the Old Lady won 9 out of their next 10 games putting them right back in the title race. Despite a season ending injury being inflicted on the in-form Del Piero threatening this upturn in form, Juventus smashed Inter 3–0, a result that took the club to top spot in the league, a position it would not relinquish.
In what was a gruelling European campaign, Juve were heavily reliant on their defence, with just 3 goals conceded during the first group stage. In the second group stage Juventus suffered a series of humiliating defeats, with a 3-0 defeat at home to United a particularly sore juncture; Thuram had played well for the most part despite his direct rival Giggs scoring 2 goals by coming off the flank. In the penultimate group game encounter against rivals Deportivo, Juventus came back from the brink to finally secure passage to the quarter finals by winning 3-2 in the last minute.
"Whilst Thuram was growing increasingly influential in attack, once again his lackadaisical positional play was at fault for the goals conceded and Lippi made it clear he would need to tighten up to retain his position for the stiffer tests ahead."
Thuram failed his first examination against Barcelona at home, where towards the end of the game he went ball-hunting and left a gaping hole in the right side of defence which Kluivert exploited to set up an equaliser by Saviola. In the return leg, he was a lot more disciplined and was unfortunate to be responsible for yet another Barcelona equaliser with Xavi volleying Thuram's headed clearance from the edge of the box to make it 1-1. With their backs to the wall and down to 10 men after the sending off of Edgar Davids, Juventus produced the mother of all smash and grabs with 6 minutes left on the clock in extra time to win the game 3-2 on aggregate.
In the semi finals, Juventus faced the toughest team in the competition... the defending champions, the Galactico's of Real Madrid. The first tie was an outstanding spectacle with Juventus giving as good as they got and proving to be a far sterner test than United from a tactical perspective. Thuram in particular gave what was arguably his finest all rounded performance as a footballer...yes it wasn't as memorable a performance as the semi-final against Croatia but defensively and in possession he was flawless.. single-handedly averting the threat of Zidane and Carlos down the left. Madrid nevertheless ended up taking the first leg 2-1.
In the first half of the second leg, a fine collective move saw Alessandro Del Piero, head back into the six-yard box for David Trezeguet to smash home. Just before half time, Del Piero twisted the Los Blancos defence inside out before beating Iker Casillas at his near post. The Spaniards managed to win a penalty in the second half but Gianluigi Buffon illustrated his world class credentials to deny Luís Figo. On 73 minutes, Pavel Nedvěd delivered the final nail into Madrid's coffin with a thunderous volley before unforgivably earning himself a suspension for the final. Zidane then scored a late consolation goal against his former side but the damage had been done.
The final saw an all-Italian affair between Juventus and AC Milan. In a game dominated by the respective defences, there was few chances of any note...and suffering from the loss of Pavel Nedvěd, who was suspended from the final, Juve lacked any sort of spark in a dull game. Thuram was excellent yet again, mirroring his first-leg Madrid display ... strong in defence and powerful going forward - with Trezeguet excruciatingly heading wide from a pin-point cross from his fellow Frenchman. Unsurprisingly the game ended 0-0, with extra time unable to separate the sides. With Buffon in goal, Juventus would have fancied themselves in the shootout but it was not to be with Milan running out 3-2 winners.
Juventus won the 2003 Supercoppa Italiana the following season and reached another Coppa Italia final - this time losing 4-2 to Lazio over two legs (Thuram adeptly played as a fluid sweeper/right back in the second leg in which Juve fought back to 2-2 before conceding twice in the last 20 minutes). In the league they finished in a disappointing 3rd place and failed to progress past the second round in the Champions League, losing out to Deportivo (2-0 on aggregate) with Thuram producing a weak headed clearance what was fatally smashed in from close range by Alberto Luque.
During the 2004–05 preseason, new coach Capello demanded that Juventus secure the likes of Fabio Cannavaro and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Thuram was overjoyed to be reunited with Fabio Cannavaro and with being entrusted to play for the upcoming season. The signings were key in re-establishing Juventus' domestic stranglehold. Juventus conceded just 27 goals throughout the league season and this, combined with the 67 goals scored, gave the club both the best defence and best attack of 2004–05 in Italy.Unfortunately Europe proved elusive, as they were disappointingly knocked out of the Champions League in the quarter-finals to eventual winners Liverpool. Thuram played at centre-back alongside Cannavaro where he was unfortunate to be part of a defence which conceded 2 goals at Anfield. One was a set piece and the other was a speculative volley from distance by the enigmatic Luis Garcia. Zlatan who had been on fire domestically was found wanting on the big stage and his prolificacy proved fatal.
The following year Thuram won yet another Scudetto but in the Champions League, they once again went out to an English side in the quarters.. Arsene Wenger's Arsenal. Thuram was now an established centre back for the Bionceneri - his career having come full circle having started out as a centre back under his compatriot - but on this occasion he was found wanting on the European stage as 18 year old Cesc Fabregas wrong-footed him to set the Gunners on their way to a memorable 2-0 victory (which Juventus were unable to pull back in the second leg in a 0-0 draw at Turin).
If yet another shocking European exit wasn't devastating enough, back on the domestic scene Juventus' were caught up in massive Italian football scandal when a number of illegal telephone interceptions showed a thick network of relations between team managers and referee organisations, being accused of selecting favourable referee. Juventus were the club most implicated in the 'Calciopoli' scandal and were relegated to Serie B. Whilst the likes of Nedved and Del Piero remained, after five years with Juve, Thuram said goodbye to Italian football altogether and transferred to reigning European champions Barcelona.
After being tempted out of international retirement in 2005, Thuram helped France to qualify for the World Cup after a shaky period in which their appearance in Germany looked far from certain. Keen to put the nightmare of the Calciopoli scandal behind him, Thuram in the absence of the likes of Laurent Blanc and Marcel Desailly stood firm even if France's much vaunted attack initially misfired. One win and two draws meant they scraped behind Switzerland to qualify from their group. This led to a showdown with Spain in the last-16.
Spain had been in fine form during the tournament and were building a team that would go on and dominate in years to come, but France defied media expectation to come from behind to win 3-1. It was a sparkling performance that gave the nation hope. Brazil, the heavy pre-tournament favourites and holders, were up next. France were perfect in every sense against the Seleção. Thuram used his experience to lead and shield his defence from the threat of Brazil’s fearsome attacking options which were admittedly more threatening in years gone by, while Zidane rolled back the years to put in another magnificent performance. An Henry goal gave France a famous win and they marched on to the semis.
With momentum on their side and a balanced mix of young and old, France were suddenly looking like they could win the whole thing. Like 1998, they had shaken off whatever doubts they had to put in some great performances. Standing in their way of a second final in three tournaments were Portugal. Again, Thuram marshalled his defence perfectly from the threat of a young Cristiano Ronaldo, while Zidane provided the sparkle up front. It was Zizou who scored the winning goal, a first-half penalty. Despite several waves of Portuguese attacks, France held on to reach the final.
The 2006 final will always be known for the antics of Zidane, and another defender. Marco Materazzi, not Thuram, made a name for himself by playing his part in Zidane’s sending off. Although the exact details are still unknown, it didn’t help the French cause when the game went to penalties. Italy would emerge victorious but France would still return home to a hero’s welcome.
After the World Cup Thuram in the twilight of his career, was getting the chance to play for one of the world’s biggest teams. Unfortunately, despite being European champions, Barcelona were falling apart. Frank Rijkaard had lost the dressing room and players were regularly arguing with one another in training. This led to Thuram playing in the worst period of the club’s recent times for the two seasons he was there.
At the end of his contract with Barcelona, Thuram would join up with France and captain the side at Euro 2008. He showed his age against the Netherlands - primarily responsible for the French defence conceding 4 goals...unable to deal with the trickery and speed of Robben and Van Persie. With a further 2-0 loss against the Italians, Les Blues were eliminated in the group stage and, after 141 appearances for his country, Thuram retired from internationals once and for all. In all his appearances, his only goals were the two against Croatia a decade earlier.
Cruelly, his career did not end on his terms. After leaving Barça, Thuram had lined up a one year deal with a pre-Qatari financed Paris Saint-Germain. It would have been perfect for him to end his career with the club of his beloved hometown, but it was not to be. During the medical, a previously unknown and dangerous heart defect was brought to his attention. Not long after he decided to end his career rather than play on and risk any sort of damage to his health.
Post retirement, Thuram decided to extend his influence outside of football and has become a noted active political ambassador taking up the fight against racism and homophobia. In November 2005, Thuram took a position against Nicolas Sarkozy, the head of the conservative political party (and future president) UMP and then Minister of the Interior. Thuram was opposed to the verbal attacks against young people that the then-Minister made when he talked about the "scum", and he said that Nicolas Sarkozy never lived in a "banlieue", areas of low-income housing surrounding French cities.
On 6 September 2006, Thuram sparked controversy when he invited 80 people, who were expelled by French Minister of the Interior Nicolas Sarkozy from a flat where they lived illegally, to the football match between France and Italy. In January 2013, Thuram took part in a march through Paris by supporters of the Ayrault government's plan to legalise same-sex marriage. He had previously explained that he supported same-sex marriage in the name of equal rights (comparing the denial of equality for homosexuals to the denial of equal rights for women and for black people in earlier periods of history), and in the name of France's secular principles (laïcité), rejecting religious arguments against civil marriage. He also expressed support for the right of same-sex couples to adopt children.
Many will be surprised by Thuram’s lowly rating of 78 due to his performance in the semi final in World Cup 1998 which elevated him from a generational great to in many people’s eyes being the best right back of all time. Our analysis notes that whilst Thuram could be a powerhouse in defence and occasionally in attack, he was fortunate to play in very tight defences which compensated for his occasional lack of positional awareness in the right back role. When Thuram surged forward, he wasn’t perfectly diligent in getting back.
Furthermore he was clumsy on the ball and lacked the panache and control of the ball as many other elite full backs. In truth Thuram simply wasn’t a ‘footballing’ full back and nor was he a thinking mans footballer (if we only take into account his full back performances). He was a monster and supremely powerful but it was only when he played closer to the central areas when he began to engage his brain and operate as an elite defender who suddenly switched on positionally.
Yet whilst he may have been football's answer to Thomas Aquinas off the pitch, deeply introspective and possessing a strong social conscience ... on the pitch he was a physical colossus, a man of action, making his name as an indomitable defender in Serie A, probably the most demanding league for a defender in the world. All substance and no frills, Le 'Philosopher' ironically was not one to be circumspect, to dither nor bide his time when the ball was there to be won. This instinctive approach to his football was encapsulated by the game which would go on to define his career - the semi final v Croatia in the 1998 World Cup.
Strengths he did possess out wide included his crossing which was technically excellent and his decision making in terms of spotting players was solid. When playing centrally he was strong in the tackle and superb at blocks, having zero fear in putting his body on the line and anticipating shots like a top goalkeeper. His athleticism was also unique and only matched by his compatriot Marcel Desailly.
In conclusion Thuram was a great player and capable of monstrous performances when put in an ideal set up but he wasn’t the all round complete full back he is often described as. He was a truly great right centre back and a terrific right back but he wasn’t the best right back of all time.
I have learnt a lot in Italy. When I first arrived here I probably had talent, however I had to ripen tactically. I learnt to work differently, that’s to say in a harder and more precise way but then one can see the results on the pitch. Here, I have certainly become stronger physically as well as technically”.
Thuram on his development in Italy
After the game, Joseph Lother, who had never been in touch with his son, came forward and announced himself as Thuram’s father. “I cheered on Lilian, who is a very talented boy.” Thuram was having none of it. “I’m surprised by the behaviour of Joseph Lother, who is my genitor but cannot declare himself my father. My conception of fatherhood is different from his. A father has to raise his son. A father has to give him advice. A father clears a path for him. My mother did all of that for me.” And with that, Joseph Lother was banished to the shadows, in which he had spent most of Thuram’s life anyway.
Thuram rejects his father's claims post 1998 triumph