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Nice’s Jean-Clair Todibo: Can He Live Up To Expectation As France’s ‘Next Varane’?

Nice's French defender Jean-Clair Todibo celebrates after scoring a goal during the French L1 football match between OGC Nice and Montpellier Herault SC at the Allianz Riviera stadium in Nice, on April 25, 2021. (Photo by Valery HACHE / AFP) (Photo by VALERY HACHE/AFP via Getty Images)

Written by Olaleye Oluwadamilola

Jean-Clair Todibo was added to the France squad by Didier Deschamps for their games against the Netherlands and Ireland which they won during the most recent international break for the Euros qualifying games, but what else is there to know about the OGC Nice defender who is dubbed as the ‘next Raphael Varane’?

Todibo was called up to the squad alongside AS Monaco man Axel Disasi with Premier League pair Wesley Fofana who dropped out following a minor injury – the second-most expensive centre-back of all time – and William Saliba pulling out too for just the same reason as Wesley’s as the young defender joined his Nice teammate Khéphren Thuram in potentially earning a first senior cap having been a youth international stalwart.

Born in Cayenne, the capital of French Guiana, on 30 December 1999, Todibo moved to mainland France at the age of four and was eight when he joined his first club FC Les Lilas in the north-eastern suburbs of Paris.

His football career was almost over before it started after a car accident just a year later, but he recovered from multiple leg fractures to win a contract with Toulouse FC by the time he was 16, amazing, right?

Todibo’s Ligue 1 Uber Eats career was only 10 games in when Barcelona decided to take a gamble on his talent in 2019, but with Gerard Piqué, Clément Lenglet, Ronald Araujo and Samuel Umtiti high in the pecking order at the Catalan club, he soon left on loan for regular football.

Spells at Schalke, Benfica and Nice followed, before he made his stay at the latter permanent at the start of last season and has since formed one of the best central-defensive partnerships in the division alongside Brazilian veteran Dante.

Todibo is a centre-back who grew up admiring Andre Pirlo, which might go some way to explaining why he has averaged more than five progressive passes per game over the last year in Ligue 1 Uber Eats.

Precisely, this is another of his advantages: the versatility that offers him the ability to play so much in the defensive line as well as in front of the defensive third. Besides that, physically, he’s a beast. His 190 centimeters of height offer him a lot of power and fortress, but also the logical speed of his big stride. In spite of his big physique, he is fast and works very well to the cut, besides, it goes well by high.

His is adept at the darker defensive arts – like tackles and interceptions – but also has the technique of a player who used to play further forward, and is able to beat the opposition press with ease.

Todibo and Dante have been paired at central defense this season just as they were last, but Nice got off to a difficult start and Lucien Favre was sacked as manager in January.

Dating back to 2022, amongst central defenders with more than 900 minutes played, Todibo has accumulated 1.5 Aggressive Defensive Actions (Tackles, Interceptions and Successful Pressures) and 2.41 Passive Defensive Actions (Blocks, Clearances and Recoveries); his partner in crime has amassed 1.05 aggressive defensive actions and 2.39 passive defensive actions.

Now, what this means is that Todibo has been the far more proactive central defender of the pair, constantly stepping out of line to impede oppositions.

Essentially tasked to stop any attacks or transitions from developing at the earliest of opportunities, he does so with the insurance of the experienced Dante sweeping behind him, covering the spaces vacated by Todibo and only intervening play whenever necessary. At times, the space vacated by Todibo may also be filled by a midfielder, as he steps off his line to confront opposition forwards.

Les Aiglo were undefeated in the league until last weekend since Didier Digard took charge on a caretaker basis, though, during which time Todibo has helped the side keep six clean sheets.

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“He’s played a lot since he’s been in Nice and consistently performed at a very high level. He’s gained confidence. He has the profile of a defender, whether in challenges, his speed or his technique. I’ve been watching him for many months, since before the World Cup” – Didier Deschamps on Todibo’s France call-up.

Nice’s French defender Jean-Clair Todibo celebrates after scoring a goal during the French L1 football match between OGC Nice and Montpellier Herault SC at the Allianz Riviera stadium in Nice, on April 25, 2021. (Photo by Valery HACHE / AFP) (Photo by VALERY HACHE/AFP via Getty Images)

“It was 24 May; I was nine at the time. I was leaving home to go to judo, I crossed the road and a car hit me. It ended up being a big accident. I still have scars from it but it’s ancient history” – Todibo on an early accident that could have derailed his sporting aspirations.

“Just three years ago, I was in Lilas, training only with my older brother, and now I find myself training with Leo Messi, Luis Suarez. It’s fantastic. If I’d thought about this three years ago, I don’t think I would’ve have believed it”- Todibo after his surprise move to Barcelona.

Todibo is a great player and very similar to Varane so much that he has been tipped to fill the big shoes of the Manchester United defender in the France national team set-up following his retirement at the end of the 2022 Qatar World Cup.

Footballers often dislike when compared with other players, but it’s true that they have similar characteristics which is undoubtedly obvious but then, Todibo still has a lot of work in his hands if he aims to achieve anything near what the former Real Madrid star has achieved having won it all in football.

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