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The one that got away: Barcelona and Manchester United should regret missing out on Ben Yedder

11:00 GMT+3 26/03/2020
Wissam Ben Yedder Monaco
The list of better goalscorers than Wissam Ben Yedder this season is a short one, with the Monaco striker enjoying a golden run of form

The list of players to have scored more league goals this season than Wissam Ben Yedder is a short and exclusive one. Only six players make it, with the all-star list including Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi as well as Ciro Immobile, whose 10 penalties have significantly contributed to the Lazio striker leading the race for the European Golden Boot with 27 goals.

The Monaco hitman, meanwhile, finds himself locked in a battle with Kylian Mbappe on 18 goals at the summit of Ligue 1’s goalscoring standings.

Ben Yedder, though, has found the odds stacked against him all season, playing in a misfiring Monaco side that was a disappointing ninth in France’s top flight when the coronavirus outbreak necessitated the halt in hostilities.

His goalscoring prowess has never been a secret, and so it is astonishing that he is playing for a comparatively modest club while the other leading Golden Boot contenders are duking it out for domestic supremacy as well as their own individual shot at glory.

Indeed, the 29-year-old can lay claim to be the most underrated goalscorer currently playing at the elite level. 

After amassing 70 goals for Sevilla, he moved for a relatively modest €40 million (£37.1m/$43.2m) to Monaco in the summer amid tentative interest from Barcelona, who must be regretting missing out on such a relative bargain, particularly given their injury troubles up front this season.

Speaking about the interest from the Catalans to Onze , he explained: “Last summer, for example, Barca took information about me several times. This winter, a deal could have been done. It didn't happen, that's how it was, that it wouldn't be done.

“It shows that I am doing a good job. I stayed professional and focused on my performances with Monaco. When Barca arrived, I took it as a plus, as a bonus.”

Ben Yedder’s story is one of unlikely success. He was initially noted for his prowess in futsal as much as in the 11-a-side game and it was not until he went professional shortly before his 20th birthday with Toulouse that he gave the indoor sport up.

Nevertheless, he says it brought him qualities that he has translated onto the big pitch.

“It gave me a lot,” he explained to Le Parisien . “A little more technique, the ability to wriggle free in small spaces, to dribble by players, to score from closed angles, to play faster with one or two touches of the ball. It still serves me today. In modern football, you need to make decisions quickly and play fast.”

Even once signed for Toulouse, though, he faced a battle to convince those that he was worth a shot and was nearly loaned out to amateur side Luzenac before a moment in training changed the mind of head of coach Alain Casanova.

“I was annoyed with him,” he confessed to Le Monde in 2018, explaining that a deal in principle had been struck a day earlier. “I had to show him what I could do. I took the ball and I dribbled round everyone, even the goalkeeper. Then I went back and beat the goalkeeper and a defender before scoring.

“During that match, I did some great things while others were trying to tackle me and hurt me. They didn’t accept that I had done that.”

Such moments, however, are not representative of Ben Yedder the professional. Aged 29, he has matured into one of the deadliest strikers in the game, lying ninth in big chance conversion percentage in Europe’s major leagues of players to have at least 20 such opportunities.

In this regard he surpasses more celebrated figures such as Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski, Messi, Mbappe and Neymar. 

Perhaps the only thing that might dissuade big clubs against gambling on him is his stature. At just 5ft 7in, he is not an archetypal modern-day centre-forward and typically works best with a partner in attack. 

This might explain why Manchester United, who he so memorably eliminated from the Champions League at Old Trafford while playing with Sevilla in 2018, did not plump for him last summer when they were said to have held an interest.

On the other hand, he is a player who appears purpose built for Barcelona, whose inaction to move must rank as one of their biggest regrets of the last 12 months.

In a pinch, they were forced to sign another former Toulouse striker, Martin Braithwaite, from Levante. Barca triggered a release clause of €18m to sign him, but while half the cost of ‘WBY’, he is also half the player.

Braithwaite played 149 times for TFC with a return of 40 goals, while Ben Yedder got 31 more in just 25 more outings. More recently, Ben Yedder registered at better than a goal every two games with Sevilla, while Braithwaite barely got one in four for Leganes, picking up assists at a poorer rate, too.

But having come from humble beginnings, the striker, who would have stood a fine chance of leading the line for France at Euro 2020 had it not been postponed, is pragmatic.

“I couldn’t imagine playing in Ligue 1 and the France team. No-one could have seen it,” he told Le Parisien when asked about his rise over the last decade. “Every day is different. You always have to keep the faith and the ambition to realise your dreams.”

In joining Monaco, the club he supported as a boy, Ben Yedder has realised one of those dreams, yet just around the corner there may be even better days ahead.

“I always dream bigger,” he told Onze , echoing the motto of a certain team from France’s capital.

Indeed, Barcelona’s loss might be PSG’s gain, with the player’s hometown club the latest to be linked with a move. The only surprise should be that his day in the sun has not come sooner.