Jonathan David growing into scoring machine for Lille

LILLE, France (AP) — It took Jonathan David some time to settle in at French club Lille. Three months, actually.

He only scored his first league goal a year ago after having joined Lille from Belgian club Gent last August.

Since then, the 21-year-old Canada international has become one of the most sought-after young forwards in Europe.

David’s goal midweek in a 1-0 victory against Salzburg in the Champions League was his 12th this season in all competitions. Only Erling Haaland (13 goals) has scored more in all competitions among players born in 2000 or later in the top five European leagues.

His goal, which followed a double in the French league last weekend, secured Lille’s first home win in the elite tournament in 15 years. It was not spectacular but required the type of cold-blooded vision world-class strikers possess.

After teammate Burak Yilmaz sparked havoc in the area, David was prepared when the ball unexpectedly ricocheted into his path. In a fraction of second, he expertly put it onto his left foot then slotted home.

“I’m loving it,” the former midfielder turned striker said. “But the most important thing is to win. If my goals and my work help the team, I’m happy. I’m in good form but it’s still a collective effort because my teammates put me in the best situations to finish the moves.”

Paris Saint-Germain’s star-studded front line of Neymar, Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe gets the headlines but David is proving to be big attraction, as well, with this kind of brilliance.

David is the French league’s top scorer with 10 goals — accounting for more than half of Lille’s total — ahead of Saturday’s game against Nantes.

Lille has been too inconsistent in the defense of its league title to mount another challenge to PSG’s supremacy, however. PSG, which visits Saint-Etienne on Sunday, holds an 11-point lead over second-place Nice.

When he arrived in Lille, David was not ready to perform in the very defensive French league. He did not know anyone in the squad except Timothy Weah and was overweight.

Replacing the departed Victor Osimhen proved to be too difficult initially as David failed to score in his first 13 matches in all competitions. The striker gives credit to Lille former coach Christophe Galtier for giving him the “killer mentality” that has since helped him flourish in a central striking role alongside Yilmaz.

“A striker has to score in every game. When I arrived, I didn’t have that killer mentality. The coach talked to me a lot about it. He helped me by playing me, by repeating that he had faith in me, that I was doing the right things and that they would pay off,” David told French newspaper L’Équipe.

David, who was born in New York and moved to Port-au-Prince in Haiti when he was three months old, was 6 years old when his family settled to Ottawa. He made his international debut in 2018 and is now a key element of the national squad bidding to advance to its first World Cup since 1986.

“He’s an absolute gift,” Canada coach John Herdman said. “What I like about Jonathan is the fact that he is so grounded. I call him the Iceman. He is just deadpan… He is not going to get carried away and I think that will be the difference for him.”

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