‘Hard hair, soft heart’ – introducing NUFC new-boy Florian Thauvin

Words by Chris Campbell for NUFC360 – a new brand aiming to bring you all things Newcastle United. Be sure to follow for updates @NUFC360

As Florian Thauvin emerged from the tunnel at St James’ Park, he took a moment to soak in the silence of an empty St James’ Park.

“Beautiful,” he said as he scanned his new surroundings. Neither the first nor last player to admire the unique construction and billowing stands that seem to touch the clouds, he was clearly content with his new home. For Graham Carr Thauvin’s presentation represented the completion of a chase dating back some three years when he witnessed a precocious winger delight the fans of Sporting Club de Bastia with his mazy dribbles and care-free spirit.

“It’s a really big pleasure to know the club has wanted me for such a long time,” Thauvin told NUFCTV. The former home of Michael Essien, Bastia had afforded Thauvin his first professional contract, something he was eternally grateful for. Nestled on the island of Corsica - south east of the French mainland - the club earned promotion to Ligue 1 in 2012 with the help of Thauvin.

Finishing a respectable 12th place, the campaign proved equally as successful for Thauvin individually as he recorded 10 goals in 24 starts. Collecting the Young Player of the season award, he was also named ‘best hope’ by tv channel Canal+, where he accepted his award live on TV. Quick to thank coach Frédéric Hantz and the technical staff for their help during the season, it had proven a breakout season for Thauvin in the French top flight.

Stood in front of his peers - including Remy Cabella- as he delivered his speech at the tender age of 20 there was an evident nervousness. The on-field swagger that had seen him take on the defenders of Paris Saint-Germain as if they were friends in the park had not yet translated to public speaking.

From there the seemingly endless discussion about him began. Much has been said about Thauvin the person - not all of it good.

One interview described him as:

hard hair, soft heart’; when you delve deeper you understand why. At first somewhat quiet, he is particularly adoring of his family. “Even if I am far away from my family, I am really close to them,” he told Marseille’s official website. “I have them just a text or a call away, I talk to them all the time. I would do anything for my family, in my life there is two things, my family and football.”

In particular, Thauvin is especially close with his grandmother. When she took ill in December 2012, Thauvin did everything he could to be with her. “I spent all my last vacation with her,” he explained during an interview in which the journalist noted his phone background - a picture of the two embracing.

That mentality has at times also permeated into the dressing room while at former club Marseille.

The end of the 2013-2014 campaign was a difficult one for goalkeeper Steve Mandanda. The 30-year-old was preparing for the World Cup in Brazil with France when a back injury cruelly ruled him out of the tournament. A difficult moment for any professional to stomach, Thauvin was the first teammate to visit him in hospital – the two having only been teammates for 12 months. However that did not matter as Thauvin spent two nights by his teammates side, sleeping on nearby stretchers and keeping his friend company. Hard hair, soft heart.

“Flo Thauvin is my bro as he puts it,” Mandanda said at the time. “We are close and he’s really a good guy and I’m really happy to have met him.”

As is often the case in modern football, comparisons to the past are plentiful for someone like Thauvin, a talented young winger that enjoys dribbling. Likened to a number of his compatriots, one name in particular will be familiar to Newcastle fans.

“It’s early in his career but for me it is the new Waddle,” Toulouse manager Alain Casanova said in February last year. “He’s a player who can unbalance defences and change the course of game. Waddle was a dazzling winger with an equally stand-out haircut and when you consider the abilities of Thauvin the two certainly begin to appear similar.

Asked for his opinion this week, Waddle certainly seemed impressed: “He’s got terrific ability and he’s very elegant,” he told The Chronicle. “He is a talent and hopefully he will fulfil his potential because he has all the attributes to be a top player.”

That is certainly what has appealed to not only Carr but also Steve McClaren. A fast and tricky winger, Thauvin describes himself as a player that ‘likes to run a lot and attack’.

Historically that has often brought success to Newcastle, particularly when it comes to wingers with a gallic heritage. Players like David Ginola and Laurent Robert delighted fans with their skills but also won friends away from the field for their appreciation of the passion that emanates from St James’ Park.

Thauvin is no different. “It is always a pleasure to see people happy to bump into us in the street or anywhere asking for a photo,” he said. “What I like about all that is to be able to make people happy, when I see a kid who sees me in the street and comes to take a photo and leaves super happy, the pleasure is mine!

“We have the chance to do our passion every day. Every day we know we will play football, do what we love and every weekend we know it is love, playing games in front of the crowds.”

Meanwhile for McClaren, another important piece of his jigsaw is neatly slotted into place. A deal that took patience, Newcastle will now hope they see hard hair, soft heart and fast feet in their latest recruit.

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