PARIS: Having missed a chance of emulating his idol Thierry Henry by playing for Arsenal in the English Premier League, Stephy Mavididi is now making a name for himself in French soccer.
The 23-year-old forward is doing well with Montpellier and will be leading his side's bid to reach the French Cup quarterfinals away to Marseille on Saturday.
Mavididi scored a superbly-taken winner in stoppage time last weekend as Montpellier beat Monaco 3-2 to move sixth in the league. He also played a part in the first goal against Monaco and scored the second.
Last season, he grabbed nine league goals for Montpellier supporting first-choice duo Andy Delort and Gaetan Laborde.
Since they both left Mavididi has thrived in the spotlight. He leads the club with eight league goals and is second in assists with three, behind silky playmaker Teji Savanier.
Mavididi showed strong potential early on.
He joined Arsenal's academy at the age of 13 and was coached by the club great Henry for the under-19s side.
“He's been my idol, still is my idol,” Mavididi told the French league's podcast. “The socks (pulled right up over the knees like Henry used to), the boots, everything really.”
But while Henry lit up English soccer for years, Mavididi never made it into the Gunners’ first team. After loan spells with modest sides Charlton, Preston and Oldham he joined Italian giant Juventus in 2018.
Initially signed to play only for the third-tier reserve side, he netted six goals in 32 Serie C games during the 2018-19 season and made one appearance in Serie A.
It made him the first Englishman to play in Italy since midfielder David Platt in 1992, but his lone game was not enough to earn him a title medal.
After a loan move to Dijon when he scored five league goals in the first division — the first Englishman to score in the French top flight since former England midfielder Joe Cole for Lille in 2011 — he joined Montpellier two years ago for 6.3 million euros ($7 million).
It was not easy to break into the side last term, with Laborde and Delort combining for 31 league goals.
Laborde is now scoring freely for Rennes and Delort nets regularly for Nice, but a new partnership is blossoming at Montpellier between Mavididi and the 19-year-old Elye Wahi.
They have 13 goals so far.
Against Monaco, Wahi's excellent close control allowed him to pick out Mavididi lurking near the penalty area, and he ushered the ball expertly to the right before smacking a fine low shot into the bottom left corner.
His winning goal was even better.
With Nicolas Cozza rushing forward from midfield, Mavididi risked being in an offside position if he received the ball.
He stepped slightly forward, then twirled around sharply to ghost into space behind the defender and receive a pass on his right foot. Without breaking stride Mavididi arrowed a strike into the top right corner.
It was a goal Henry would have been proud of and, ripping off his team jersey, Mavididi roared “Come on!” to Montpellier's home crowd as he celebrated his injury-time belter.
Like Henry before him, the speedy Mavididi also likes making runs off the left flank. Henry praised him last month when commenting on a game for broadcaster Amazon.
“What I've always liked about Stephy Mavididi is that he's a hard-working player who closes (opponents) down,” Henry said. “He's always in the right place. What was missing was finishing — whether to give the ball or to score — but now he's brought that to his game.”
With 226 goals for Arsenal and 51 for France — both records — Henry knew a bit about finishing at the highest level.
Mavididi has represented England at youth and under-20 level for a total of six goals in 18 games. A chance for the senior side, however, may only come with a move to a big club.
But for now, he's helping Montpellier's push for a Europa League place next season — a stage where Mavididi could showcase his talents even more.