When Wissam Ben Yedder first arrived in Andalusia, he clearly found the scorching climate and unique culture to his liking. Sevilla, a city which exists between two worlds – the Moorish influences of North Africa evident in its medieval minarets and palaces, its cathedrals and Gothic buildings the legacy of Catholic Spain – must have appealed to a footballer who was born and brought up in the northern suburbs of Paris to North African parents. Usually described as ‘Franco-Tunisian’ in the French press, Ben Yedder himself has a schooling in multiple cultures.
A former French U21 international who has never made a senior appearance for Les Bleus, he turned down an approach from Tunisia late last year ahead of The Carthage Eagles’ 2018 World Cup campaign, clearly hoping to play for the country of his birth. Ben Yedder was still in fine form at that point, scoring 11 goals in his first 15 appearances for Sevilla in all competitions. Even now, after a downturn in his fortunes, he still has six goals from six Champions League appearances (or eight in eight if we’re counting the two he scored against Istanbul Basaksehir in Sevilla’s two-legged play-off qualifier).
That makes it seem even more bizarre that he did not feature in Sevilla’s 0-0 draw with Manchester United in the first leg of the Champions League Round of 16, remaining on the bench for the full 90 minutes despite Los Rojiblancos hunting for a goal and a narrow home advantage.
Pain in Spain
With Sevilla preparing to face United again in their Round of 16 decider at Old Trafford on Tuesday evening, it is uncertain to what extent Ben Yedder will feature. This is a man who scored twice in the Spanish side’s ‘Miracle of Pizjuanbul’ – the 3-3 comeback draw with Liverpool at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium back in November – and also found the back of the net when Sevilla nabbed a 2-2 draw at Anfield in the Champions League. It’s not like he has problems scoring against Premier League opposition.
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Having thrived under the management of Eduardo Berizzo, the man sacked in December after a four-game winless run for Sevilla, Ben Yedder seems to have a more difficult working relationship with Berizzo’s successor, former AC Milan boss Vincenzo Montella. According to France Football: “[Ben Yedder] does not seem to have the confidence of Montella… the Italian technician seems to have decided to trust in Luis Muriel up front.” They have suggested that Ben Yedder was an outside bet for the France World Cup squad earlier in the season, but that heavy rotation with Muriel has put paid to his chances of being selected by Didier Deschamps.
Montella worked with Muriel during their time at Sampdoria, which perhaps explains his trust in the Colombian striker. There is also a common feeling that, while Ben Yedder is prolific in fits and bursts, his performances are often inconsistent and he lacks the all-round game required of a modern striker. Standing at only 5’7 he is neither physically imposing or strong in the air, requiring a more subtle approach to get the best out of him as a specialist finisher. Football365.fr have another explanation for his dwindling game time, stating: “The man who was a revelation in a Toulouse shirt is also perhaps a victim of his profile, not necessarily able to match the aspirations of each new coach.”
While Ben Yedder scored 71 goals in 174 appearances for Toulouse between his professional debut in 2010 and his departure for Sevilla in 2016, even then he had a reputation for sporadic brilliance in front of goal. Alain Casanova, the manager who promoted Ben Yedder to the Toulouse first team, told La Depeche in 2015: “Wissam has often experienced barren periods between November and March. He has to cut that out of his game.”
Ben Yedder’s failure to impress Montella might be put down to just one such barren spell, with the 27-year-old scoring once in his last ten appearances dating back to mid January. That said, several of those have been cameo appearances as opposed to a full 90 minutes, so Ben Yedder might feel that he needs his manager’s full trust before he can score with the frequency Sevilla fans expect of him. With 35 goals from his two seasons with Los Rojiblancos, Ben Yedder has hardly been a failure in Spain, but the Franco-Tunisian striker has some way to go to ensure his future in La Liga.
In the meantime, however much he features in Sevilla’s crunch clash with United, Ben Yedder will have to persevere. After missing out on the first leg in Andalusia, Sevilla’s erstwhile Champions League hero tweeted: “Never lose patience. It’s the last key to opening the door.” Whether Vincenzo Montella will appreciate that sentiment is yet to be seen.