There is a certain kind of arrogance that players with ambitions of reaching the pinnacle of the game must possess. Admittedly, the brand of humility that keeps you grounded and striving for more no matter how much you achieve is important. In fact, it is crucial to balance it finely with this arrogance, in a delicate way that ensures either one comes to the fore as the situation demands. People love to rave about the humility part of the equation, but they never quite understand the arrogance part.
Arrogance is good when taken in doses and backed by substance, and a big ego is obviously expected of superstars or those on the way there. These things motivate players to achieve big things, giving them the drive they need to keep climbing to new levels and breaking through uncharted frontiers.
There is, of course, an irritating brand of arrogance that nobody finds amusing and admirable. It is the one without substance, the one that is condescending towards others, indefensible and devoid of respect. This one gets you nowhere, if it isn’t backed by enough substance to compel exceptions by those who have the power to shut the road. Ultimately, it is destined to backfire, negatively impacting one’s public image to the point of ridicule.
Jean-Clair Todibo often finds himself unfairly associated with a type of arrogance that doesn’t suit him – the negative kind. He’s a footballer frequently misjudged, placed in an inadequate talent bracket that fails to do justice to his abilities. When you have bounced back from being hit by a car at 9 years old – spending days in a coma and being told you cannot play football anymore – and you end up getting signed by Barcelona at 19, after only 10 senior appearances, you certainly have every reason to be arrogant about your talent and the heights you can reach.
That move to Barcelona ultimately became a step backwards in his career, as he barely featured and found himself going on three different loans. But a reflecting Todibo later acknowledged that he was partly to blame. In an interview, he admitted to not having humility, seriousness and professionalism while there, which is understandable for a 19-year old who joined one of the biggest clubs in the world – arriving on a high, only to find himself on the sidelines.
What Todibo needed, he later realised, was the humility to stay grounded, persistently work on his game, and nurture the patience to wait for his chance. This humility, along with the belief in his own talent, remains the balance essential for success, which he lacked at the time.
It didn’t help that Barcelona’s problems started not long after, and manager, Ernesto Valverde, was under immense pressure. A 19-year old with so few prior appearances, who lacked the humility to focus on developing and growing, was never going to get chances. Perhaps, Valverde should still have bet on him regardless, a sentiment many Barcelona fans share.
Todibo’s loan and then permanent transfer to Nice has significantly changed his story. On the one hand, he played with William Saliba, another precious defensive talent who faced similar issues to Todibo upon moving to Arsenal, finding himself on loan at Nice. There is something about finding someone in a similar situation, knowing you are not alone, that spurs people on to better.
Seeing Saliba’s relatable trajectory definitely had a positive effect on Todibo, who soon got his act together. His previous two loans at Schalke and Benfica had been completely forgettable, raising major doubts about his talent and how far he could go. On the other hand, playing alongside a seasoned veteran like Dante has helped him mature under the right guidance, learning on and off the pitch.
Now in his fourth season at Nice, he has evolved into a player with no lingering doubts about him and what he adds to the team. He is a grown man in play and in attitude, with all question marks comfortably dispelled. This is the Todibo Barcelona hoped they would have by 2024.
Jean-Clair Todibo has established himself as one of the best defenders in world football, in his own right. There aren’t many who combine his excellence in possession with his defensive prowess. He is as balanced as any centre back is allowed to be, a key figure in build-up and in snuffing out threats.
In possession, he is as comfortable as any defender in the world, standing out with his ability to ball-carry and pass, to beat the press innovatively, to be the backbone of a possession-heavy side. He is currently averaging 80 passes per game in Ligue 1, at a 91% accuracy. Only Dante with 84.8 passes per game (91% accuracy) and Marquinhos with 89.1 passes per game (95% accuracy) are doing better. He completes 4.1 long balls per game, the 5th highest rate in the league.
Out of possession, he is a monster defender who gives opposition forwards nightmares. Even though the ageless Dante is the leader in defence, Todibo’s ability to lead and carry the defence on his back is still apparent. He leads the team in clearances with 3.2 per game, and he is behind only Melvin Bard for tackles (1.9 per game) and interceptions (1.3 per game).
So far, he has won 57% of his ground duels at a rate of 3.1 per game, while also showing excellence in the air, winning 65% of his aerial duels at 1.6 per game. Of the 14 games he has played so far, Nice have kept clean sheets in 8 of them – there was another game that finished with a clean sheet but he didn’t play the full 90 minutes, leaving the pitch in the 68th minute. In fact, in the top 5 leagues, they have the 2nd best defence, conceding only a goal more than Inter.
Todibo’s big weakness is his tendency to do too much when on the ball, holding onto the ball for too long sometimes, trying to beat the press alone when simpler options are available through his teammates, or simply driving with the ball at his feet too far a distance.
It is the kind of confidence that he plays with, the arrogance of belief in one’s own abilities, and his assuredness about what he can give his team. More often than not, it pays off. When it doesn’t, however, it can be a problem. But this is what defines the best in the world; their willingness to take risks, to do what other less talented players may decide against, to take the bull by the horns to open things up for their teams.
While this is more expected of attacking players who operate far from goal, it is understandable that defenders of Todibo’s profile also see themselves in the same way, with the big goal of elevating the team when push comes to shove. He is brave, a defender that plays with no fear.
Four years after being taken over by Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s petrochemical company INEOS, Nice find themselves at a crossroads, languishing in ninth place and unable to qualify for Europe.@LiamScahill takes a look at Nice’s rollercoaster campaign: https://t.co/g0OVX99O1G pic.twitter.com/yjOixS4QBn
— Breaking The Lines (@BTLvid) May 24, 2023
It is, therefore, no surprise that he has been linked with moves back to bigger clubs than Nice; Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur the more recent names. Teams that want to hold the ball and dominate games against all kinds of opponents need defenders like him, fearless and full of conviction, offering solutions that opponents cannot plan for. There is a dynamism to his play that would make him an asset in every team in the world.
With Nice finally competing for the title, potentially matching his ambitions, and financially capable of sustaining it beyond this season, it remains to be seen whether the rumoured move away will materialise. For him, the focus is on enjoying his football, wherever he gets to play. He is certainly in no hurry this time around after his Barcelona debacle. The world is taking notice of one of the most unique profiles the game has to offer, and Todibo is revelling in the attention once again.
By: Astorre S. Cerebróne / @Cerebrone
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / FEP / Icon Sport