It’s been hard to find much of a feel-good factor in Monaco this season.
Lying in the lower half of the table with the objective of Champions League football already out of reach and having already sacked head coach Leonardo Jardim for the second time in little over a year, expectations have not been reached.
While the form of certain players has fluctuated from the very good to the distinctly mediocre, one man has maintained a high standard throughout the campaign: Wissam Ben Yedder.
With 17 goals and five assists at club level already this season, Ben Yedder’s very presence at Stade Louis II is rather puzzling. He is clearly performing to a standard vastly in excess of anyone around him.
After a prolific spell in Spain with Sevilla, and Barcelona lacking in offensive depth, the France international has shown all the attributes to suggest that he would have thrived at Camp Nou.
Rumours circulated in January that the Catalans were ready to launch a mega offer for Ben Yedder, and given the consistently high level of performance that he has produced this season, he would have been worth more than his weight in gold for the Blaugrana.
Despite playing for a Monaco side playing with such inconsistency, no-one has scored more Ligue 1 goals than the 29-year-old, who has registered on average once every 113 minutes. Of players who have scored at least five goals, only Paris Saint-Germain duo Neymar and Kylian Mbappe – the two most expensive players in history – can command a better figure.
And there is evidence, too, that suggests that Ben Yedder would thrive even more in a better side that provided him with a comparable volume of chances. Indeed, where Mbappe has 5.1 shots per 90 and Neymar has 4.8, Ben Yedder is at a distant 2.7. However, he has hit the target with 60% of his shots, the best ratio for a regular in the division, substantially ahead of the superstar duo, who are both on the 55% mark.
Having opened the scoring on seven occasions this season, his value to his side as a game breaker is clear.
But the former futsal star is more than simply a goal getter, as former head coach Leonardo Jardim explained when he described the player as having “technical finesse coupled with a great scoring sense”.
Ben Yedder, meanwhile, is eager not to be pigeonholed simply as a scorer.
“I’ve got no limits. I always try to do more and continue to score,” he said after netting the winner against Nantes.
Standing at 5 foot 7 inches, he does not possess the look of a modern-day No.9 and perhaps that has prevented his talents from being more quickly recognised in his homeland, where he scored 62 Ligue 1 goals in a four-year burst with Toulouse to earn his big move to Spain.
Despite a final season with Sevilla where he scored 30 times in 54 games, including 18 alone in La Liga, making him the leading marksman under 30, he was broadly ignored by the game’s elite until he switched to Monaco and the club he supported as a child.
With transfer fees around Europe having exploded in recent seasons, the €40 million that Monaco spent on the striker to activate his release clause looks a steal, particularly as Barca were reportedly ready to offer twice that in order to lure the striker back to Spain in a bid to soothe their injury problems.
“If Barcelona pay €200m, we can talk,” Robert Moreno, appointed Monaco coach over the winter break, quipped, “€80m is too low.”
I’ve got no limits. I always try to do more and continue to scoreWissam Ben Yedder
Indeed, it is remarkable in itself that the Catalans would allow such a player to be whisked so readily from under their noses give it was clear they were shot of experienced attacking options even last summer.
Ben Yedder’s futsal background means that he has the technical qualities that the Catalans are famed for, his intelligence on the ball means he is more than a simple penalty-box predator, surely ideal for dovetailing with Lionel Messi, while he had already proven his calibre in La Liga and Europe, scoring 22 times in 29 continental games.
Meanwhile, he stands every chance of starting Euro 2020 as France’s option at No.9, particularly since incumbent Olivier Giroud failed to secure a January move away from Chelsea.
He has won half of his eight caps since moving back to France six months ago and can count Bleus boss Didier Deschamps as a fan.
“You just have to look at what he did last season with Sevilla and what he’s continuing to demonstrate with Monaco. He’s proven his effectiveness in front of goal,” he said.
“Wissam’s got this ability to come off the bench and change a result. It’s a bonus that we’ve not had all the time. But that doesn’t prevent him from being able to start a match.”
While other Euro 2020 candidates have played down the focus they have of representing their country in the summer, notably Marseille’s Dimitri Payet, Ben Yedder has talked up this goal.
“When you’re a passionate dreamer, you want to realise these dreams,” he told L’Equipe in October.
“I’m passionate. It means the more I improve, the more I discover my ambitions, so I have no limits.
“I’ve always got confidence in myself and I know that sooner or later, I can have my place in the national team.
“Statistics are concrete, what people say about me is not.”
Few players’ numbers in recent years can compare to those of Ben Yedder, and in such form, it is surely only a matter of time before he is given the recognition he deserves.