For Canada’s Jonathan David, heroics-filled run with Lille is just the beginning
Canada’s Jonathan David enters the 2021-22 season with very high expectations and a great opportunity to steal the show on soccer’s biggest stages.
The 21-year-old has already shown he has the courage and resilience to shine through the toughest times, showing himself to be a giant killer in the French league last season.
In his first season wearing the Lille OSC red, white and blue colors, the Ottawa-bred forward was instrumental in dethroning Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain, a team with around eight times the mass Lille salary.
Just a month after winning Ligue 1, he sported the maple leaf alongside Alphonso Davies, propelling Canada’s National Men’s Team into the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying for the first time. in 24 years.
It is now up to this calm, confident and hardworking young talent to build on these achievements at the top of his sport – in the next UEFA Champions League campaign and the next round of the World Cup qualifiers.
David says he knows what to do:
“I’m well aware that scoring and helping goals will be key, and I can’t wait to score more than I did last season.”
Big challenges lie ahead, but if David’s past season has shown anything, it’s that he’s up to the task.
A heroic season
With stakes at an all-time high and chances against him, David produced the defining moment of the Lille season.
On April 3, the club from the North of France entered the PSG field for a crucial game with the two teams tied for the top of the table with eight games to play. But to solidify a real chance at becoming title usurpers, Les Dogues would have to pull off the unthinkable and defeat the Parisian juggernaut at the Parc des Princes for the first time in 25 years.
In the 17th minute, David suffered a devastating tackle from PSG midfielder Idrissa Gueye but continued, determined to score the game before being substituted.
“After the tackle I tried to keep going,” the 21-year-old said via email. “It was a huge game and I didn’t want to leave.”
Three minutes later, as he limped on one leg, David buried the eventual winner of the match in a 1-0 victory to put the chimera of a league title at hand. He was substituted 15 minutes later, unable to stay on the pitch, and needed two weeks to recover from his injury.
– Canada Soccer (@CanadaSoccerFR) April 3, 2021
Stéphane Carpentier, journalist in Lille for the French newspaper La Voix du Nord, remembers seeing David’s bruised and bandaged ankle after the match, and still wonders how he lasted several minutes and managed to score.
“That day David became kind of a hero here in the North,” Carpentier said in French.
“There is still this culture in Lille, where people love the warriors on the field, continues Carpentier, that day, Jonathan David really aroused an admiration because to stay on the field by playing on one leg and succeed in scoring a goal, you need to show more than technical strength, you have to show a fairly incredible mental strength.
“It was one of the highlights of the season, that’s for sure.”
An imperfect start and early struggles
Jonathan David of Lille reacts during a Ligue 1 football match between Lille and Strasbourg. (Michel Spingler / AP)
David arrived at Lille ahead of the 2020-21 season on a record € 27million transfer after two solid seasons with Belgian league KAA Gent. Although David claims he didn’t let the expectations of the award bother him, his start to the season has raised concerns – he has only scored twice in his first 25 appearances.
A few factors were at play. The pressure, of course, but David had also not been on the pitch for several months after the pandemic derailed his final season in Belgium. By the time he arrived in France he was not in good shape and did not have enough time to adjust to the higher level of play.
“At first I was wondering why they put € 27million on this player,” Carpentier said. “I was worried it was a casting mistake, to be honest, and I wasn’t alone.”
But his efforts never faltered and coach Christophe Galtier remained confident in his young striker.
Although David was bitten by a snake to the point that he struggled with the simplest scoring chances, he helped win in every other area of the game and energized the team with his work rate. raised.
“I just tried to keep my focus and my commitment,” David said. “I told myself to keep working and my time would come.”
He started to gain momentum after the Christmas holidays and bailed out the team with late-game exploits on numerous occasions.
“He always managed to be in the right place at the right time to take the thorn out of the team’s side,” said Carpentier.
So, when Lille entered the last game of the season against Angers who needed to win when PSG were just one point behind, David was on the verge of stepping up once again. He says his ability to stay focused and manage his emotions is the reason he thrives in these intense times.
“There were nerves, of course,” David said. “It was like not winning would have meant a whole season wasted. I didn’t really imagine I was going to score, but I was ready if the chance came my way.
His talent for staying cool, calm and collected in times of high pressure inspired Canadian men’s coach John Herdman to call David an “ice man”. David continued to build on that reputation by opening the scoring and taking a penalty kick in Lille’s 2-1 win to claim the league title.
Jonathan David gives Lille OSC a 1-0 lead in last game of the season pic.twitter.com/3n6Iq0HoxQ
– Canada Soccer (@CanadaSoccerEN) May 23, 2021
By the end of the season, the forward had scored 13 league goals, the highest total in a single season by a Canadian international in one of Europe’s top five leagues.
An opportunity to shine on the biggest stage
Jonathan David of Lille, left, celebrates with his teammates after scoring his side’s first goal in a French Ligue 1 match between Rennes and Lille. (David Vincent / AP)
So what does this season have in store for David? A chance to really become a household name.
Despite his recent exploits, David has yet to receive the same level of recognition in Canada as superstar and fellow Bayern Munich player Davies.
The fact that Davies went through Major League Soccer while David went straight to Europe may have had something to do with it, but Davies also played (and won) the Champions League – the biggest stage in European club football. .
As champions of France, Lille will play in the Champions League this season, and although they may not compare to the German giants, David is not selling his expectations short.
His goal is to qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League and win the Ligue 1 title this season, knowing he will have to be even better than last season.
Fans are expecting more goals from David, according to Carpentier, who adds that former Lille president Gérard Lopez is planning a 25-goal season from David.
Achieving these goals will be a tall order as David is scoreless and Lille have two draws and one loss to show for three games in their Ligue 1 campaign.
Galtier and sporting director Luis Campos, who recruited David, are also no longer with the club.
It’s not the only thing that has changed. PSG suddenly added perhaps the greatest player to walk the earth in Lionel Messi, with Spain legend Sergio Ramos and World Cup-winning goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, as if the squad weren’t already overpowered by the talent.
Rumors that David are on the move are also circulating. The striker has attracted interest from Arsenal and Liverpool in the past, and Carpentier has said Lille could sell him if they receive an extraordinary offer, not least given the well-known financial difficulties that Ligue 1 football is facing. currently facing. But he says that offer is more likely to come during the next offseason if David continues his current development path.
Canadian Soccer History Quest
David will undoubtedly be one of the first names on the roster when Canada enters the ‘octagonal’ final qualifying phase for the CONCACAF World Cup, which starts on September 2 and continues through. March 2022, especially after putting on performances like this to help them achieve that result. far.
for Jonathan David, with the help of his teammate Alphonso Davies pic.twitter.com/jQzh4Nx3g1
– Goal (@but) June 10, 2021
While reaching the “Octo” in itself is an extraordinary achievement, David and the Canadian team are aiming higher, hoping to qualify for Canada’s second appearance at the FIFA World Cup.
With David and Davies playing among the best in Europe and a plethora of young talent sure to follow in their footsteps, including Club Brugge’s recent record Tajon Buchanan, Canada is entering a golden generation for men’s soccer. .
Many expect this to bode well for the 2026 World Cup at home, but David is confident that he, Davies and the rest of the Canadian squad can take Canadian soccer to new heights as early as 2022.
“We are here to play to bring our country to the next level in world football, not only myself and Alphonso, but the whole team,” he said. “We have fantastic chemistry, everyone is very focused on the main goal, and it’s Qatar 2022.
“We believe we owe it to our people… and we will do everything possible to achieve this goal. ”