When Lilian Thuram, the most capped French footballer of all time, joined Barcelona for the last phase of his storied club career, he enrolled his oldest son at the club’s academy.
It was 2006, Marcus was only nine, so a sporting career for the boy was far from the parents' thinking. But dad kept an eye out, and on learning that his first-born, tall and quick, had been earmarked as a defender, he advised him to try playing higher up the pitch.
Sound instincts, as it turned out. Marcus Thuram last month won his first three caps for France on the left of a front three, from where he was Borussia Monchengladbach's leading scorer last season and from where, on Tuesday against Inter Milan, he aims to drive Monchengladbach into the knockout phase of the Champions League.
Thuram’s two goals against Real Madrid on Matchday 2 helped set the path, the springboard for a campaign that has upset the natural order of Group B, which Monchengladbach lead.
To be the son of a famous, successful sportsperson is to learn the habits of professionalism from the cradle, and sometimes to imbibe the joys.
Marcus was born in Italy less than two years before his father won the Uefa Cup with Parma. He was 11 months old when Lilian, from full-back, scored two goals in a World Cup semi-final ahead of lifting the game's greatest prize.
By the time Kephren, Marcus’s younger brother and now a midfielder with Nice, was born in 2001, Lilian was being persuaded to join Juventus, as the sport’s most expensive defender.
Antonio Conte would be his Juve captain; the same Conte is now Inter’s coach, preparing not only to confront the talented offspring of an old friend but probable elimination from Europe’s premier competition. Winless Inter are bottom of Group B.
Conte recalls the older Thuram as a superb central defender and right-back; Marcus has made the opposite end of the field his domain. But the resemblances are there, in personality as much as anything.
Marcus Thuram takes a knee after scoring
Lilian combined his exceptional sporting career with erudite and impactful campaigning against racism. He named his son after Marcus Garvey, the 20th-century Jamaican activist, and in June he watched Marcus take a knee after scoring a goal in June, well before the gesture became widespread in elite football.
Comparisons are inevitable, but Marcus deals easily with them. “My father’s not a legend to me, he’s just my dad.” And he’s far from alone for carrying an instantly-recognised surname into the elite theatre of club football among the rising stars of his generation.
There’s Federico Chiesa, the winger whose Juventus have already sealed their place in the last 16 of the Champions League, who is almost a twin to Marcus Thuram. Chiesa junior was born in Parma a couple of months after Marcus, nine months before their fathers, club colleagues, were competing for a place in the last four of a World Cup, Enrico Chiesa’s Italy losing out to France on penalties.
In the same World Cup, Patrick Kluivert’s goals were helping Holland to within penalties of the final. His son Justin is with RB Leipzig, about to pick their way through a tense Group H, where the German club are locked on six points with Paris Saint-Germain.
Footballers with famous fathers
PSG is the new home of midfielder Rafinha, whose father Mazinho won the 1994 World Cup with Brazil, and blessed the next generation with not one but two exceptional sons.
The other is Thiago Alcantara, Champions League winner with Bayern Munich and now aspiring to add to his many honours with Liverpool.
In fact, you could assemble quite a team from the proud fathers, closely invested in the current Champions League. Carles Busquets, a goalkeeper, was in the Barcelona squad that won the European Cup in 1992. Son Sergio won three more as a Barca midfielder. Daley Blind of Ajax is the son of fellow defender Danny, Champions League winner with the same club in 1995.
And for compelling evidence that a parent's expertise is more a fast-track to success than an intimidating frontier, look only at Borussia Dortmund, where Erling Haaland has, at 20, just become the youngest player to reach 15 Champions League goals.
Only two players younger than Dortmund’s Gio Reyna have ever played in a Champions League knockout match, as Reyna did, at 17, in February. Their fathers Alfie Haaland and Claudio Reina were a little older than their gifted offspring when they, in an uncanny coincidence, received their first senior international call-ups for the same Norway versus USA game back in 1994.