Since the departures of Johan Elmander and Andre-Pierre Gignac in recent years, Toulouse FC have struggled to find a striker capable of hitting the back of the net with regularity.
The southerners spent large sums of money on Turkish forward Umut Bulut and Emmanuel Riviere in the summer of 2011, but neither have supplied the goals that are so crucial to a team with aspirations of European football.
Costing €4.5m and €6m from Trabzonspor and Saint-Etienne respectively, Bulut and Riviere managed a meagre 10 goals between them last campaign. After only one season at the Stadium Municipal, the Turk was allowed to return to his homeland to rediscover his form at Galatasaray.
With Riviere as the sole attacking option at his disposal, no money in the bank and the new season looming, TFC boss Alain Casanova had to work some magic to resolve his team’s lack of goals.
A spell was cast in the name of Wissam Ben Yedder.
Converting the 22-year-old from his familiar position on the wing to the spearhead of Toulouse’s attack has been a stroke of genius by Casanova. Ben Yedder has found the net five times in the opening seven games of the campaign, already equalling his predecessors’ totals from last season.
Making his mark off the bench in the league opener away to champions Montpellier, the French/Tunisian has been ever-present for TFC since. His form in front of goal finds him sitting second only to Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the Ligue 1 scorer’s charts – a massive turnaround in fortunes for the youngster.
Ben Yedder, a former French international futsal player, signed for Toulouse from amateur side UJA Alfortville in 2010. The Ligue 1 side had been impressed by the starlet’s record of eight goals in 19 matches in his debut season in the fourth division.
However, the step up proved difficult to begin with for Ben Yedder, as he only featured 13 times in his first two seasons for the southerners – netting once.
The rejuvenated striker is the first to admit that he found it tough going after spending much of his time playing for the reserve side:
“Until December, it was not great. I almost left, I was almost loaned out. When I found out, it woke me up. It took away the timidity. I realised that I had to get a grip. There were other things I was behind with, in health, regularity and rhythm. The technique is not enough.”
Despite his small stature of 5ft 7in, a large amount of the Sarcelles born striker’s goals this season have been from headers. His clever movement and pace to get beyond defenders has made Ben Yedder a nightmare for his opposition both aerially and with the ball at his feet.
The forward’s contribution cannot be underestimated. Having netted 56% of the team’s goals this campaign, Toulouse have leapt to sixth place in Ligue 1. However, Les Pitchouns would be struggling in the relegation area without Ben Yedder, taking only four points from seven games – a worrying statistic for the fans.
Such is the buzz around the early season revelation of Ligue 1, that talk of a call-up to the French national side has been mooted. The striker has featured twice for France at under-21 level, but also has the option of representing Tunisia.
Coach Didier Deschamps has shown faith in some of the league’s younger players in his selections, and is reported to be casting an eye on TFC’s targetman. Ben Yedder is keeping himself grounded though, and refuses to get carried away with the speculation of his international future.
“I had some interviews with the Tunisia coach (Sami Trabelsi), but that stays between him and me,” said the striker.
“For now, I am focussing on Toulouse and the France youth team. I want to go step by step.”
It’s a modest and refreshing attitude from a young player who could easily let his recent successes go to his head. The fans will be hoping this continues and that Ben Yedder can guide the club back into European football for the first time since 2009.
Toulouse have enjoyed a reputation for producing talented youngsters like Moussa Sissoko, Etienne Capoue, Jeremy Mathieu and Achille Emana in the past. It appears that the latest star has been born in Wissam Ben Yedder.