Wissam Ben Yedder’s route to football’s summit has been an unconventional one. Rather than developing within the confines of an academy, he honed his craft on the streets of Paris; something which has moulded him into the exceptional talent you see today.
In the wake of France’s 2018 World Cup victory, a lot of praise was heaped upon the nation’s prestigious footballing centre, Clairefontaine. It is here where the likes of Thierry Henry and Kylian Mbappé were schooled, refining their raw talents before developing into superstars.
France is known for producing exceptional footballers, and Clairefontaine is just one of many centres of excellence throughout the country that acts as a conveyor belt for both top European clubs and the national side.
Wissam Ben Yedder was different. He received no such tutelage. He was not guided by iconic coaches or pampered in world class surroundings. Instead, Ben Yedder fell in love with football on the streets of Paris.
The game of futsal may have been invented in South America, but it is in the Parisian suburbs where it took flight. France’s capital is one of the world’s most multicultural cities, and its caged pitches represent a vehicle for integration, where people from all backgrounds can socialise, bond and communicate through futsal.
“My love for football is wide. Futsal gave me the opportunity to improve in small places,” Ben Yedder tells COPA90. “I think that both [football and futsal] are compatible because once you love football, you love the pleasure and freedom to dribble and destroy your opponent.”
“He’s a boy who came out of nowhere, and 48-hours after the match at Old Trafford, he was called up for the first time for the French national team.”
That love led Ben Yedder to Garges Djibson, a local futsal team which has supplied numerous players to the futsal national side over the years. It is here where the then shy and timid 16-year-old first met teammate and coach, Parfait Mendy.
“First of all, he was shy and reserved, he couldn’t handle looking people in the eye,” Mendy recalls. “On the pitch he was really efficient and, mentally speaking, really, really strong. He was like my little brother and now he considers me as a big brother.”
One thing that immediately impressed Mendy was Ben Yedder’s ability with both feet. He broke his right ankle at a young age and so practised relentlessly with his weaker foot, to the point where he became almost ambipedal.
“I was young when I suffered this injury,” Ben Yedder explains. “It took me six months before I could play again and a year-and-a-half to be at my best. I didn’t have a right foot, but I had my left one. I kept practising until people asked me if I was left-footed or right-footed.”
Such dexterous ability coupled with an extreme control of the ball in tight spaces helped propel the stiker into France’s futsal national team before he eventually made the transition into professional football aged 19.
“Street football is like the hood’s World Cup. You can hear the people shouting: ‘Ohhhh!’. This is pleasure for them. When you nutmeg someone, this is Joga Bonito!”
Rather than ostensibly struggling to adapt to a new environment, Ben Yedder thrived. 71 goals in 174 appearances brought him to the attention of LaLiga giants, Sevilla, where he signed for a €9 million fee.
The Frenchman picked up in Spain where he left off in France, scoring an array of goals with both feet over the course of three brilliant seasons. It was one night in Manchester, however, which would come to define his career.
“I remember that evening at Old Trafford when he eliminated Manchester United single-handedly,” recalls Ben Yedder’s former youth coach, Azzedine Meguellatti. The striker’s brace proved enough to dump the Red Devils out of the Champions League while simultaneously impressing French national team manager, Dider Deschamps.
“He’s a boy who came out of nowhere,” continues Meguellatti. “And 48-hours after the match at Old Trafford, he was called up for the first time for the French national team.”
Ben Yedder’s career now stands as a source of aspiration for children across Paris, many of whom spend their every spare moment on the same concrete pitches which once hosted Ben Yedder himself.
“Street football is like the hood’s World Cup,” one player tells COPA90. “When we got home from school at 5/6pm we played football and tried to gather as many people as we could to make a show.
“Some people didn’t like football, but they came for the show. You can hear the people shouting: ‘Ohhhh!’. This is pleasure for them. When you nutmeg someone, this is Joga Bonito!”
Now back playing in France with AS Monaco, Ben Yedder stays in touch with his futsal roots by following his old club side, Garges Djibson. “I try to keep up with the latest news, to follow the league rankings and how they do,” he says. “Of course, it is the club where I started, so it’s always really pleasant to hear news.”
Many hold the belief that it’s impossible to make it in football without having been professionally coached from a young age. But Wissam Ben Yedder is living proof that there is no right way to forge a career in the beautiful game. Everyone is on their own path, capable of creating their own history.