There couldn’t be a better moment for Jonathan Clauss to return to the club which once thought he was not ready for the roughness of the game.
It has been a long road, but the 29-year-old Lens right back ultimately made it to the top level, getting a first taste of international soccer with France’s national team over the past few days.
Clauss, whose teams travels to Strasbourg — the club that rejected him as a youth player — in the French league on Sunday, made his first appearance with Les Bleus against Ivory Coast last week. He then started for the World Cup champions on Tuesday in a 5-0 rout of South Africa.
Both games served as preparation for the World Cup later this year and Clauss lived up to expectations, scoring points in the battle for the highly coveted spots in the squad that will travel to Qatar. Especially since France coach Didier Deschamps now uses a 3-5-2 system with room for fullbacks attacking from the flanks, a type of player embodied by Clauss.
It’s actually Clauss’ attacking profile that has caught the eye in the French league this season.
His contribution to Lens’ offensive play has been stellar, with four goals and nine assists under the helm of coach Franck Haise, who has been using him as a right wingback. Only Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappé and Rennes midfielder Benjamin Bourigeaud have delivered more decisive passes this season in the league.
With France, the Strasbourg academy product came in for a few minutes in the closing stages of the friendly against Ivory Coast. He then delivered a complete performance against South Africa, combining strong defensive play with sharp forays down the flank and precise crosses.
Clauss will be back at Strasbourg brimming with confidence after his maiden international experience. Born in the Alsatian city, Clauss was not kept by his hometown club’s academy after 10 years in the youth teams.
“When I was told I wasn’t going to be kept on, it destroyed me at the time, but it also allowed me to get back up after falling down,” Clauss told the French league website. “I was disappointed, but I was able to realize that if I wanted to continue playing soccer, I had to put pleasure first.”
Clauss then took a series of odd jobs, including at the night post office and a butcher shop bouncing back with amateur teams. He spent several seasons in the German and French lower leagues before signing a first professional contract with second-division club Quevilly-Rouen for the 2017–18 season.
He then moved to second-division German club Arminia Bielefeld before Lens offered him a contract in June 2020.
Only in his second season in the French elite, Clauss has been a constant threat for opposing defenders, with a total of 29 shots and 58 passes that led to an effort at goal, in 28 matches played.
“He has had a different journey,” Haise told the website Lensois.com after Clauss received his international call up. “He went through a lot of difficult years during which he needed a lot of resilience, endurance, and to keep believing … He is a magnificent example for many players.”
With nine matches left to play in the league, eighth-place Lens can still hope for a European spot next season and will be counting on Clauss to deliver again. Strasbourg is in fifth place and is bidding for a Champions League place.
Paris Saint-Germain, which has a 12-point lead over Marseille, hosts Lorient on Sunday. Marseille is at Saint-Etienne.
More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports