When Didier Deschamps announced his France squad for the upcoming two games against Luxembourg and Spain, a few Newcastle fans undoubtedly pinched themselves to make sure they weren’t dreaming.
Technically still under contract at St James’ Park, the French winger was rewarded for his fine form on loan at Marseille by earning his first call-up to his country’s first-team.
There’s no denying his move to Newcastle was a massive failure, although it can also be argued the transfer was doomed from the start.
A target for the Championship club, then in the Premier League, for a season or so, the 24-year-old was forced to move by Marseille’s president at the time, Vincent Labrune, as the French club were looking to balance their books.
Labrune explained to L’Equipe last year: “When he had to leave for Newcastle for financial reasons, it broke his heart. He accepted the transfer as he understood the reasons, but, deep down, he was hoping it wouldn’t happen.
“Proud as he is, he only feared one thing: ‘They’ll say that I never made it at OM’. As early as November 2015, he was sending messages to try and return to the club.”
A lot of players would have been thrilled to move to the Premier League as a 22-year-old, but, in reality, Thauvin simply knew this wasn’t how he was meant to leave.
Ever since he first arrived at the club from Lille in 2013, he’d made it clear Marseille was the club he wanted to be at, and Marseille was the club he wanted to find success in.
Unfortunately for everyone involved, by the time the Newcastle transfer came around, that hadn’t happened.
Thauvin arrived in the north of England not wanting to be there, which is hardly the best start to a new adventure, and while he did try, it just never worked out.
Steve McClaren didn’t exactly give him time to adapt to English football, throwing him at the deep end, first as a substitute against Manchester United, before starting him against Arsenal, West Ham and Watford, and then dropping him when, surprisingly, he wasn’t tearing these teams apart.
Appearances from the bench and the odd start followed, but, at that point, it seemed the former Newcastle manager had already made his mind up about Thauvin, and an exit strategy was needed.
The winger was desperate for a return to the south of France, and Newcastle, aware this was probably for the best, agreed to loan him back to Marseille for the remainder of the season.
Leaving a Marseille side that had just enjoyed an exciting season under Marcelo Bielsa, Thauvin returned to a dysfunctional mess struggling in the bottom half of the table, where they would remain as they ultimately finished 13th.
Despite this, Thauvin slowly but surely grew in confidence, helped by his constant inclusion in the first-team, and aided the Ligue 1 side reach the Coupe de France final, where they eventually lost 4-2 to Paris Saint-Germain.
Knowing the player was better off far from Newcastle, the two sides renegotiated a new deal for Thauvin to stay at Marseille, this time on a loan with an option to buy for €11m, which, to little surprise, was almost instantly triggered, with Rafa Benitez’s side set to receive the money at the end of the season.
They say a return to your former club is never a good idea, but for Thauvin, it’s been the catalyst he needed to finally show people what he was always capable of, and the 24-year-old is currently enjoying the best season of his career so far, with 10 goals and six assists in 30 league appearances.
Furthermore, he is one of only two players with 10+ goals and five+ assists in Ligue 1, with the other being a certain Kylian Mbappé, who also earned his first call-up to the France squad alongside the Marseille winger.
Perhaps the difficult spell at Newcastle was exactly what Thauvin needed to realise he couldn’t just get by with natural talent alone, and going from Premier League flop to France international in the space of 15 months is proof that hard work pays off.
As he explained to L’Equipe soon after hearing the news he would be joining the likes of Hugo Lloris and Blaise Matuidi at Clairefontaine, he hasn’t ‘forgotten the difficult times spent in England, at Newcastle’.
In fact, he appears to have used them to his advantage to ensure he doesn’t find himself in a similar situation ever again.