PARIS — Arjen Robben’s influence has traveled all the way from Germany to the south of France and landed at the twinkling feet of Marseille winger Florian Thauvin.
Thauvin is one of the league’s best performers this season, scoring 10 goals and providing nine assists in 22 games, and his style has all the hallmarks of the Bayern Munich veteran.
The speedy Thauvin has developed a signature move similar to Robben’s. He is most dangerous when collecting the ball on the right, darting inside and bending the ball into the top corner with his left foot.
“It’s a move I work on,” said Thauvin ahead of Sunday’s big game at home to fourth-place Monaco. “It’s true that I’ve been inspired a lot by Robben because he’s a left-footed player on the right and he’s an example for me.”
Robben has 37 goals for the Netherlands and 134 for Bayern. Every defender knows how he plays but few can stop him.
French defenders are now having the same problem with Thauvin, 24.
Collecting the ball on the right at Caen last Friday, he skipped past a defender and whipped a curling shot into the top corner.
“They (goalkeepers) know it and so do defenders because 90 percent of the time they’re waiting for me to cut inside,” Thauvin said. “As long as it works I’ll keep doing it.”
It has certainly worked for third-place Marseille where Thauvin has emerged ahead of attacking midfielder Dimitri Payet as the team’s key player.
Marseille struggled for goals in the early part of the season after selling top scorer Bafetimbi Gomis to Turkish side Galatasaray.
Thauvin has thrived on the extra responsibility and is on course to beat his career-best 15 league goals last season. He has been recalled by France and is pushing to be included in Didier Deschamps’ 2018 World Cup squad.
The fact Thauvin has only two caps is not a reflection of his talent.
He was voted the league’s best young player with Bastia in 2013 and won the under-20 World Cup alongside Manchester United’s Paul Pogba later that year.
Lille bought Thauvin for 3.5 million euros ($4.4 million) in January 2013 and loaned him back to Bastia for the rest of the season.
The fans were excited to get him but Thauvin never played for Lille.
Instead he pushed through a move to Marseille for 12 million euros ($15 million) on the final day of the 2013 summer transfer window, earning the wrath of Lille supporters and a reputation as a mercenary.
His first two seasons with Marseille were inconsistent — 13 goals in 67 league games — and he left in 2015-16 to play in the Premier League for Newcastle.
Newcastle paid 17 million euros (21.3 million) and the club had high hopes of seeing another dazzling French winger like David Ginola — a huge favorite from 1995-97.
After a bright start, Thauvin faded and failed to make much of an impression — other than for his attire.
Former Newcastle striker Alan Shearer lambasted Thauvin’s penchant for arriving in a tuxedo on match days, contrasting his flashy dress sense with disappointing performances.
Marseille fans were not keen when he was loaned back halfway through the same season.
Their reservations seemed justified when he managed a meager two league goals but he earned credit for scoring in the French Cup semifinal and in the final defeat to Paris Saint-Germain.
After another season on loan in 2016-17, he joined Marseille on a permanent basis in June.
His scintillating form and his relatively young age will doubtless see big clubs chase him next summer, especially if he performs well at the World Cup.
Marseille will be desperate for him to stay and he appears committed to the club.
“I’m not thinking about the transfer market, I’m very happy at Marseille,” Thauvin said. “It was hard enough already to come back.”
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Jerome Pugmire is at www.twitter.com/jeromepugmire