50 Greatest players in World Cup History: #33 Lilian Thuram
We remember the 1998 World Cup as Zinedine Zidane's World Cup... but apart from those two booming headers in the final (which is not a small contribution by any means), he hadn't really had the best of tournaments... sent off for an act of unadulterated violence against Saudi Arabia in the group stages, he would return and do not much till those two corners were swung in against Brazil.
The real stars of the show, then, was the French defence. With marauding Basque Bixente Lizarazu on the left, that Rolls-Royce of a ballplayer Laurent Blanc partnering the Minotaur, Marcel Desailly, in the middle and ever reliable Lilian Thuram on the right, they were impregnable. Hell, they conceded just twice the whole tournament, and one of those goals was a Michael Laudrup penalty.
That second goal, though, was due to a rare mistake on the part of Thuram - for once not in-sync with his partners, he played Davor Suker onside for the Croat to tuck one under Fabian Barthez.
So what does he do to make up for it?
A minute later, he bombs forward, dispossesses the Croat skipper, Zvonimir Boban, plays a one-two with Youri Djorkaeff (who's as surprised as everyone else to see who's playing give and go with) and thrashes it into the far low corner. His first goal ever for France. And it came in a World Cup semifinal.
Twenty minutes later, he would bulldoze Jarni and curl another peach into the same corner of Drazen Ladic's goal.
Those were the only two goals he ever scored for Les Blues.
What a boss.
Fast forward eight years and Thuram - recently retired from international duty - has been called out of retirement by Raymond Domenech (desperate to atone for Les Blues' horrifying performances in the 2002 World Cup and the 2004 Euros) and he's partnering William Gallas in the heart of that once-again formidable French defence. He plays like it's 1998 all over again, marshalling everyone around him with incredible ease - France concede just 3 goals during the entirety of the tournament.
He was brilliant in 1998, and maybe even better in 2006... displaying a level of consistency that most of us only dream of achieving in our professional lives. He was the same for Monaco, Parma, Juventus, and Barcelona - any team that had him didn't have to think twice about the position he was supposed to play in. He was never out of form, never injured, never made a mistake... on the rare occassion he did, he would make up for it himself, as Croatia found out so painfully in '98.
We don't really value consistency enough - as a species we are attuned to the spectacular... and you might think Lillian Thuram is on this list just because of those two magnificent, tournament-saving, goals in the '98 semis... but he's here, above some much more celebrated individuals because we at SK wanted to pay tribute to the absolute, blind, trust Ruddy Lilian Thuram-Ulie inspired in everyone who saw him play football.
We pay homage to the man who rose above racial discrimination and hasn't forgotten to go back and fight that social malaise off the field, to the man who valued consistency above all else.
Merci, Lilian... and take your well-deserved place amongst our list of 50 Greatest World Cup Players.