There can be little doubt as to the identity of the defensive revelation of the season in France. Jean-Clair Todibo had not played a professional match before the beginning of the 2018-19 campaign, yet moved to rapidly established himself as a key figure for Toulouse in the opening quarter of the season.
The 18-year-old has played 10 matches for the Pink City club, even getting his first professional goal in September – a late equaliser against Rennes that underlined his importance to the side.
And yet, for the promising centre-back, his career could have gone off the rails before it had even begun after being knocked down by a car when he was only nine.
Who is Jean-Clair Todibo?
Todibo was born in the Paris region, where he spent his youth. Aged nine, he had yet to choose his favoured sport, as he was involved heavily in both football and judo. However, a twist of fate might have prevented him from reaching the top in either.
“It was May 24, I was nine at the time,” he told La Depeche . “I was leaving my house to go to judo, I crossed the road and a car knocked me down. It turned into a big accident.
“I had an injury on both my leg bones and down to the ankle, and there were several fractures.”
He was playing for Les Lilas at the time, where coach Dylan Greneche was overseeing his progress.
“We weren’t really sure if he’d ever play football again,” he admitted.
In the event, it would be a year that Todibo was away from the football field, yet it seems to have been a character-building experience for him that has served him in good stead for his adult life.
“He’s a young player who has always had a lot of tenacity, and he proved it at that time, despite his young age,” Greneche said.
Todibo, meanwhile, has consigned the incident to the past. “I’ve still got the scars, but it’s an old story,” he said.
He arrived in Toulouse in 2016, having forged a reputation for having a tremendous will to win while still a youth back in the Seine-Saint-Denis region.
“It was the last game of the season and a draw was enough for both teams to go up. The match ended 1-1 but I found Jean-Clair in tears, mad with rage. We had won promotion to the top division but a draw was not enough for him. He wanted to win,” Greneche said.
At that time, his favoured role was in the heart of the midfield, where he offered a game similar to Watford star Etienne Capoue, who came through the ranks of TFC from 2005-2013 .
With the Under-19 team, he was given the captaincy, with team-mate Kilian Corredor explaining to LesViolets.com: “He speaks a lot. He’s a bit like the Paul Pogba of TFC.”
He featured eight times for the reserves last season but was given a chance to show his potential with the first team during pre-season. He was the only one of four youth players called up for the summer training camps to make the cut and from there was quick to establish himself in the plans of head coach Alain Casanova, who was seeking a replacement for Issa Diop, sold to West Ham in the summer.
Why is Todibo not playing for Toulouse?
After making a promising start to the season, Todibo has been missing from Toulouse’s first team since completing 90 minutes against Strasbourg in a 1-1 draw on November 3.
The following Wednesday, the teenager was notably absent from first-team training, cast instead to the reserves, and the next day the reason was explained.
“The situation and the reality is relatively simple,” Toulouse’s co-director general Jean-Francois Soucasse explained. “The club has been in negotiations with the player and his entourage over his first professional contract for many weeks.
“He was presented with a salary proposal unprecedented in the history of the club – very much above that of Diop and Alban Lafont [who signed for Fiorentina in the summer] to name only two recent cases.
“At the start of the week, Jean-Clair indicated to us that he still did not know what direction he wants his career to go in.”
As such, he will work with the reserves until his decision is made.
Toulouse have justified their decision, with Soucasse saying: “Casanova needs players totally invested and involved in the challenge for future matches. And more broadly, it is to do with the promotion of players from the academy, which is at the heart of our sporting and economic project. Even if the current situation is unprecedented, we regret it while still hoping a favourable outcome will be found.
“But clearly, as long as Jean-Clear has not made his decision, he will stay away.”
Toulouse, however, only opened negotiations with the player, who was on the radar of several top clubs even before this season, in October.
What teams want to sign Todibo?
Todibo, therefore, will be available to discuss terms with clubs as of January as he is only on a youth contract and will be available for a few hundred thousand euros in compensation to Toulouse.
Many teams appear willing to take such a bet, with Tuttosport reporting that Juventus are leading the chase for the player. However, according to the Italian publication, there is also interest from Liverpool and Dortmund.
Local paper La Depeche reports that RB Leipzig, who have signed many promising young French stars, including Dayot Upamecano, Ibrahima Konate, Nordi Mukiele and Jean-Kevin Augustin, hold an interest.
Bruno Satin, who is the player’s agent, told Radio Kiss Kiss : “Bayern Munich and Schalke are among those who are interested.”
From within France, Lyon, who have a strong relationship with TFC, have scouted the player repeatedly and like his ability to play in several different positions, including defensive midfield.