It is not often the case that a young defender from a recently promoted Bundesliga side gets called up to play for the French national team. But then again Stuttgart are not your typical newly-promoted side, and Benjamin Pavard is not your typical young defender.
In the summer of 2016, VfB Stuttgart were relegated from the top-flight for only the second time in Bundesliga history.
A founding member of the league, Die Roten are a sleeping giant, but mismanagement and a rotating coaching policy has meant that the club was finally relegated and faced a significant rebuild in the second tier.
While Stuttgart can be faulted for being impatient at times when it comes to their coaches and sporting directors – the club has been excellent in identifying young up and coming talent both in their academy but also from abroad.
One such example is the 21-year-old Pavard, who was brought in as part of the Swabian’s rebuild for €5million from French side Lille.
Only 20 years old at the time, he had played 13 games in Ligue 1 the previous season and was not exactly the experienced defender clubs look for when they attempt to rebuild in Bundesliga 2.
The Frenchman, in fact, was one of the reasons why Stuttgart quickly parted ways with head coach Jos Luhukay. The Dutchman was brought in at the beginning of the season to oversee the club’s promotion back to the top flight, however, he is an old-school coach, who believes that success in the lower division can only be achieved through experience.
Signed ahead of their fourth league fixture, it wasn’t until week eight that Pavard made his debut. Only after Luhukay left the club in mid-September, citing differences in opinion on how the club should move forward.
Replaced by Hannes Wolf, born in 1981, he was the young coach Stuttgart were looking for, and the French defender began to blossom. Although it was not until mid-October that he managed to nail down a starting spot.
During his time at Lille, Pavard had featured as a defensive midfielder, as well on the right of the defence and in his favourite role as a centre-back.
The new coach, playing a back-three, picked the Frenchman as the pivot in Stuttgart’s build up play and he’s flourished with pass completion rate of 82.1 per cent, acting as a playmaker from the back.
In the defensive end, the youngster was just as impressive, completing 1.9 tackles and averaging 3.7 interceptions per game. Without his high-level of performances, it’s unlikely Stuttgart would have won the Bundesliga 2 title and sealed their place back in the top-flight.
Once back in the first division, Stuttgart underwent structural changes, with Daimler AG coming in as a major shareholder. The club had money to invest in the playing staff, but officials felt that sporting director Jan Schindelmeiser was not the right man to spend the money, replacing him with Bayern Munich‘s squad planner Michael Reschke.
Once in place, he then completed the transfer of experienced centre-back Holger Badstuber. With the 28-year-old on board, there could have been an expectation that Pavard could see his playing time limited, but the France Under-21 international had other ideas.
In fact, while Stuttgart had a topsy-turvy campaign that culminated with Hannes Wolf leaving the club in late January, Pavard continued to impress, even improving on his Bundesliga 2 numbers.
In 25 appearances, the 21-year-old won 1.8 tackles per 90 minutes, averaged 4.4 clearances and had a pass completion rate of 84.7 per cent.
Perhaps the most impressive statistic of all is that he managed those numbers by committing just 0.8 foul per 90.
All of this came while the defender proved his versatility to adapt to several different formations.
When Tayfun Korkut came in to replace Wolf at the end of January, Stuttgart often played with four at the back and with Badstuber moving forward into defensive midfield role, Pavard patrolled the Swabian’s defence with the equally talented Timo Baumgartl.
With that formation in place, the Reds have collected 13 points in five games and are now closer to the European spots than the relegation zone.
With Stuttgart shooting up the table Pavard has deservedly appeared on the radar of several European clubs who are looking for a ball distributing defender with development potential.
However, the Bundesliga side have made it clear, he won’t be leaving for the fee being suggested in the media.
“From being an exceptional talent, Benjamin Pavard is definitely on the way to becoming an international top player,” sporting executive Michael Reschke told Bild.
“We are the ideal club for him right now and he feels that.
“If, in the future, a club from Europe’s top 10 shows real interest, we’ll sit down. Benjamin and his agent are aware of it.
“But if this summer a club believes they can sign him for €30m, this club is profoundly wrong.”
Given his outstanding performances throughout the season, the youngster was called up by French national team head coach Didier Deschamps to represent his country against Wales and Germany.
“Honestly, I was very very surprised and very very happy,” he told Bundesliga.com when asked about his selection. “It’s one of the best days of my life because I really didn’t expect it in fact.
“I’m not going to hide the fact I cried and my parents too, because all the sacrifices we have made since I was little have paid off. I don’t think I’ve ever cried as much. It’s only the start, the hardest part is to come.”
Pavard played in both those matches – 45 minutes against Wales and 26 minutes against Germany – and his versatility, able to play across the back four could see him nab a place on the plane to Russia.
Earning a call-up to for the summer’s tournament would further increase the defender’s stock and could make him a significant asset for Stuttgart in next summer’s transfer market as he would command a fee well and above the €5million he cost Stuttgart just two years ago.