Rouges Rising: Jonathan David transfer to Lille OSC an important one for career, CanMNT

Jonathan David officially joined Lille OSC on Tuesday, as the French club broke their transfer record to acquire the Canadian’s services, making David the marquee signing of their ‘Mercato’. In this, we look at David’s potential fit in Lille’s squad, see the importance of this move for him, as well as other Canadians looking to play abroad. 

Canada’s biggest transfer saga of the summer has finally come to an end. 

After months of speculation, a horde of interested teams, and a bagful of goals scored along the way, Canadian Men National Team forward, Jonathan David, has completed a big-money move to Lille in Ligue 1 from KAA Gent in Belgium. 

Only 2 years removed from playing amateur soccer in his hometown of Ottawa, David continues his meteoric rise up the footballing hierarchy over the past few years with this move, becoming Lille’s marquee signing of the summer, with the Ligue 1 side paying a reported club-record 30 million euro fee ($45 million CAD) for his services. 

Speculation started about a potential transfer back at the start of 2020, as David was bagging the goals for Gent, who found themselves in the thick of the Jupiler Pro League title race, as well as in the midst of a decent UEFA Europa League campaign. 

While both of their conquests didn’t go as planned, as they finished 2nd in the Belgian league table, after the league was called off back in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and found themselves knocked out at the Europa League Round of 32, it was still a strong season for the Belgian side. 

Led by David, who had 18 goals and 8 assists in 27 league games for Gent, along with 5 goals and 2 assists over 13 games of Europa League qualifiers and competitive fixtures, they made a big step forward this season, leading to intense speculation about their star man, David, and his future. 

With teams such as Arsenal, Manchester United, Leicester City, Bayern Munich, Inter Milan and RB Leipzig all reportedly interested in his services, it was expected that he would make a huge move this summer window, allowing to push up another level in his quest towards the top. 

Even though the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily threw a wrench into those plans, there was no doubt that he’d be on the move this summer window, whenever that would’ve ended up being, and that proved to be true this week, with Lille the eventual destination. 

And no doubt, Lille is a great destination for David, on multiple fronts. It’ll allow him to make a big step up in level, while staying in familiar territory of sorts, as Lille is only 80 kilometres away from Gent, making it easier for David to move. 

On the pitch, Lille has quickly earned a reputation for being a team that is both fun to watch, and one that helps young players move up a level, which for David, who’s still only 20 years of age, makes it a perfect destination for him. 

If he keeps progressing as he has, it’s easy to imagine him making a 70+ million euro transfer to an even bigger club, making this an ideal stepping stone move for the young Canadian, who’s already scored 11 goals in 21 games for Les Rouges internationally. 

Fit at the club: 

And upon first glance, David fits nicely into Lille’s projected lineup for this upcoming season, as he appears to be a direct replacement for Victor Oshimen, the Nigerian forward who just moved to Serie A giants Napoli in a big 70+ million euro move. 

Considering that Lille gave David the #9 shirt, he looks to project as a starting striker for them this season, either as a pure #9, or a second striker, with Lille having spent a lot of the 2019-2020 season in either a 4-4-2 or a 4-2-3-1. 

As long as Jonathan Ikone doesn’t make a move abroad before this window ends, it’s expected that he and David will form a lethal partnership up top, either side-by-side in that 4-4-2, or with Ikone deployed underneath David in that 4-2-3-1. 

With the midfield pivot of Boubakary Soumake and Benjamin Andre doing a lot of the dirty work underneath, along with the presence of Jonathan Bamba and Renato Sanches as inverted wingers, Lille should have a dangerous front 6 next season, led by David. 

Given the fluidity of the aforementioned players, as Ikone loves to roam as a creator, while Bamba and Sanches love to move inside from the wings, with Andre proving to be an effective box-to-box threat during his time at Lille and at Stade Rennais, Lille is expected to score plenty of goals. 

That’s why signing David was such a priority for Lille, as his versatility will be a big gift for manager Christophe Galtier, who’s shifted between counter-attacking and possession-based systems with Lille over these past few years. 

So to add David, who can play as a #9, #10, #8 or on the wings, it’ll give Galtier plenty of tactical breadth to work with, allowing Lille to become that much more dangerous against different opponents. 

Given that David can both play in between the lines and play through them, having him link up with players like Ikone, Bamba and Sanches in a 4-2-3-1 is especially tantalizing, especially when you look at their 2019-2020 statistics. 

There’s a reason why Ikone had 6 assists while playing 1.1 key passes and completing 2.6 dribbles a game, while Sanches had only 1 assist but 1.8 key passes and 2.6 dribbles a game, with Bamba rounding out the trios numbers with 1.4 key passes and 1.7 dribbles a game, and that’s because they’re all lethal creators (whoscored). 

You factor in David’s killer instinct at generating chances, as he averaged 0.43 Expected Goals (xG)/90 minutes with Gent, but also his ability to link up with teammates, as shown by his 0.17 xG assisted, and his ability to break lines, as seen by his completed 1.86 dribbles/90 minutes, and a front 4 of David, Sanches, Ikone and Bamba seems exciting. 

While there is some concern that David won’t be as much as a direct striker as Oshimen, who scored 13 Ligue 1 goals this year, and prefers to play behind the lines, David is versatile enough to be able to participate in both the build-up play and finishing play, which should offset his lack of desire to always making runs in behind. 

He might not be Oshimen, who is more of that breed of direct striker, but David is sneaky fast, and if needed, he’s shown to be a lethal finisher in Belgium, as shown by his 20+ goals for Gent this season, which mostly came as a #10/second striker. 

As long as he, Bamba, Ikone and Sanches can link up, and provide the sort of versatility seen in a front 4 such as Bayer Leverkusen’s, David and his teammates should score plenty of goals in Ligue 1 and Europa League this season. 

It might require a bit of a tactical shift from Lille, who played a lot more direct through Oshimen, but from what we’ve seen of David, getting the most out of him might make their attack more well-rounded. 

(For more of an in-depth breakdown of David’s fit at Lille, check out this excellent piece by Peter Galindo and K.T. Stockwell on the transfer and what it means for David)

David’s move to Lille a sign of maturity:

But while his move to Lille looks like a no-brainer on paper, it’s a sign of his maturity that he chose to move to this club at this stage of his career, even despite heavy interest from some big clubs. 

A lot of 20-year-olds would’ve jumped at the opportunity to play for a team like Arsenal, Manchester United, Inter Milan or Bayern Munich, but instead, David is betting on himself by moving to Lille, who isn’t maybe as well-known as the aforementioned clubs.

That’s not to say his move to Lille is less of a big deal, as David moving to a top 4 Ligue 1 club for a club-record transfer is big on so many levels, but it’s also a move that most people in his position wouldn’t make. 

Instead of risking getting lost in the fold at a big club, forcing himself to head out on loan or to a second-team to find minutes, he’s going to a club where he’s going to be one of the go-to guys, right from the get-go. 

And when you see how Lille has helped young talent progress in recent years, with players like Oshimen, Nicolas Pepe and Rafael Leao all making big moves abroad after standout seasons with Lille, you can’t help but get excited about David’s future. 

It might feel like a bit of a downgrade at the beginning, at least compared to some of the clubs he could’ve been at, but Lille and Ligue 1 is a big step up from the Belgian League, so we’ll see him get tested on a more regular basis by some quality opposition. 

With scouts constantly monitoring Ligue 1 for the next big thing, David will get a chance to truly get his name out there, paving the way for a big-money move within the next 3 years, allowing him to get to that big club well before the age of 23. 

Considering he’s setting himself up to that, all while only moving 80 kilometres away from where he is now, to a country in which he already speaks the language, is a shrewd piece of business, one that should set himself up well for the future. 

Despite the lure of history and notoriety, he smartly and maturely chose the option that may prove to be best for him as a player for the long-term future, which for fans of the Canadian Men’s National Team, is something they should be happy to see. 

He’ll get lots of minutes, lots of opportunities and lots of eyeballs on him, giving him a good opportunity to shine as he continues to grow as a young player going forward. 

A big boost for the CanMNT:

But while this move is huge for David, much like the transfer of Alphonso Davies to Bayern Munich, this move is also big for other Canadians, who will certainly garner more attention in light of this recent Canadian shift abroad. 

We’re seeing it already with the likes of Tristan Borges and Charles Andreas Brym, who will be playing in Belgium’s first division this season, and Cyle Larin, who has been rumoured to move to either English first division side Leeds, or Dutch giants Feyenoord. 

If the play of David and Davies can convince more European teams to take a chance on Canadian MLS and Canadian Premier League standouts, while also convincing eligible dual-nationals such as Ferdi Kadioglu to commit to Canada, it will allow us to see the reach that their success abroad can have. 

As we’ve seen with the exodus of talented Americans to Germany after seeing the success of Cristian Pulisic there, as long as David and Davies continue to do big things, it’ll create a huge ripple down effect for Canadian Men’s Soccer. 

So we’ll keep a close eye on David’s tenure at Lille for a multitude of reasons. 

Firstly, we’ll keep tabs on his play on the pitch, as he and Lille push towards domestic and continental success, improving their reputation throughout Europe as a team to watch. 

Secondly, we’ll look at how this affects the cache of young Canadians, whom teams will surely be less reluctant to take a chance on now, as we’ve seen with someone like Tristan Borges, who has gone from semi-professional, to the CPL, to the second division of Belgium, and now to the Belgian first division in less than 2 years. 

As David has shown with his rise, as he’s gone through a similar pathway as Borges, without the CPL stop, there are good Canadian male prospects out there, they just need to be found and given a chance to shine at the top level. 

Looking Forward:

Either way, it’ll be exciting to see David finally don the blue and red Lille strip and do some damage in Ligue 1, starting on August 22nd, if he’s in the lineup by then. 

After a breakthrough 2019-2020 campaign, this is a good chance to show that it was no fluke, and that he’s 100% for real.

With plenty of eyes on him, it won’t be easy, but based on what we’ve seen from him so far, that pressure won’t faze him, hence his nickname for Canada, the ‘Iceman’. 

And in a tough Ligue 1 circuit, one that has both made and broken young prospects, he’ll look to that ice-cold nature to push him through to the top, allowing him to continue his rise up the ranks of the global game. 

Which for fans of the Canadian Men’s National Team, is an exciting prospect to imagine, as he continues to make waves abroad, much like Alphonso Davies has, as well. 

Cover Photo by: Martin Bayzl/Canada Soccer

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