Why Lille striker Jonathan David is finally ready for a Premier League move

This is the latest feature in our series counting down French football’s 20 hottest properties, those most likely to feature in elite clubs’ 2023 transfer plans. Look out for the next player tomorrow and follow the run down in full here on GFFN.Lille’s Jonathan David has long been seen as a potential target for big clubs, and for good reason, but he remains in France. However, the Canadian managed nine goals in his first fourteen league games this season, and looks once more to be Les Dogues’ leading hope for a successful Ligue 1 campaign. The Canadian finished last term as the club’s top scorer under Jocelyn Gourvennec, scoring 15 in 32 starts. The major criticism, though, was that just three came in 2022 as David endured a dry spell that saw him score just once in 17 league matches.

This season he’s started well again. Playing under his third coach at LOSC, Paulo Fonseca, following Gourvennec and Christophe Galtier, David has featured both as a lone striker and in conjunction with new signing and fellow striker Mohamed Bayo from Clermont. He’s responsible for 35% of his side’s total output so far and, as it did in the first half of last season, his range of finishing has impressed. David ended the 21/22 campaign with more right-footed goals but, if his recent excellent left-footed finish against Toulouse is anything to go by, the former Gent man has been training hard in the off-season to become even more unpredictable.

The former Ottawa youngster averaged 0.65 goals per 90 minutes through to the start of November this season, ranking above Alexandre Lacazette, Wissam Ben Yedder and Lionel Messi. Although Lille’s talisman has slightly underperformed next to his expected goals tally this season, according to FBRef, David has outperformed his xG across his time in France, a sign of great finishing rather than luck.

It’s difficult to compare David to other forwards. Goal poaching is just one element of the striker’s skillset – his link-up play helped guide Lille to the 2021 Ligue 1. In that respect, he’s reminiscent of Arsenal forward Gabriel Jesus. Both can trap a fast ball into their feet and quickly move it elsewhere to another teammate before spinning their marker and making a run in behind. It’s that versatility that makes David hard to profile, and defend against. Though he went goalless against Lucien Favre’s Nice in a 1-2 defeat, he gave one of France’s leading young centre-backs, Jean-Clair Todibo, a torrid time as he constantly lured the defender out of position.

At Lille, David has most often been paired with another striker, usually Burak Yilmaz. Aware of his surroundings and quick with the flicks, David seemed to thrive with another forward next to him. This season, though, with Bayo exiled to the bench for bad behaviour, we’ve seen the first glimpses of Canada’s starting striker play as a lone forward in a top-five league. The results have been strong, even beyond goal-scoring.

David has averaged more touches per 90 minutes this season than in any other so far at Lille, still finding space and passing opportunities without obvious options. Questions remain, however, after that dry spell which likely put off bigger clubs from making an approach this summer, a slight embarrassment for the player and his agent who had both intermated David would be leaving Lille in the summer.

Worries over last season’s inconsistency linger and, although his strong start is promising, given €40m is likely needed to pry him away from the Stade Pierre-Mauroy, with his contract running to 2025, scouts and coaches will want to be more assured of consistent output. It’s something that held back Alexander Isak from a big transfer away from Real Sociedad, until Newcastle gambled on the Swede. David, meanwhile, will remain pragmatic over any move away from Lille, before moving to France he explained that “I don’t want to go somewhere and just stay on the bench. It’s about taking the right step.”

Nevertheless, it’s hard to criticise a move for David. He speaks French and English, works hard defensively and won’t turn 23 until January. He’s proven he can be effective in various systems too as Lille have gone from counter-attacking demons in Galter’s title-winning campaign, to the team with the fourth-most average possession in France and David has still been able to play his own game. That versatility makes him an excellent pickup for anyone.

To be specific though, David would likely thrive at a counter-attacking team that likes to chase space in behind. His speed and agility makes him lethal in those scenarios. That should get clubs like Leicester City, Brentford and Everton interested. Borussia Dortmund could also be an interesting option. With the unfortunate circumstances around Sebastian Haller’s illness and a mixed start to the season from emergency signing Anthony Modeste, a mobile forward in the shape of the Canadian could be what BVB coach Edin Terzić needs.

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Alex Barker

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