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Christopher Jullien’s top flight career has been a tumultuous one to date. From beating PSG to his club, Toulouse, struggling against relegation in a playoff battle. Jullien’s individual performances have fluctuated as much as his club’s in recent times. Although often a powerful and commanding presence, errors have characterized his displays of late. Nevertheless, Celtic have seen it fit to invest €8m & a 4 year contract in the Frenchman, which Jullien will they get?
Of Jullien’s three seasons in Ligue 1, all with Toulouse having signed in 2016 following a loan season with then Ligue 2 Dijon, his last was comfortably his worst. Although the rangy centre back recovered much of his better form in the final stretch of the campaign, his year overall – mirroring his club’s – has been disappointing.
After what seemed to be a productive off season, Toulouse were slated for a comfortable mid-table campaign at worst while harboring hopes of fighting for Europe. This was despite the somewhat bizarre re-appointment of Alain Casanova who left the club in relegation trouble in 2014/15. Although eventually surviving relatively easily, instead TFC spent the majority of campaign looking over their shoulders. As did Jullien.
Previously, Jullien had formed a stoic defensive partnership with Issa Diop, once pivotal to Toulouse’s continued top flight buoyancy. But since captain Diop, who unceremoniously replaced Jullien as the armband holder – a supposed source of frustration for Jullien, was tempted across the Channel by West Ham, Jullien has looked far less assured and decisive in his defending.
The end of 2018 proved particularly problematic. Outshone dramatically by the emergence of Jean-Claire Todibo, who impressed sufficiently to join Barcelona in the winter window, Jullien made a string of errors that lead to goals in defeats to Nantes and St. Etienne. The three goal home defeat to Montpellier was a low point, drawing a comical 0.5 out of ten for his display from prominent Toulouse fan site, LesViolets.com.
Having never truly looked comfortable next to the teenager Tobido, whose rise spanned just ten senior games at TFC, a switch to trio of centre backs (largely due to injury issues) and the eventual arrival of Japanese international defender Gen Shoji, a far more compatible partner in predominantly a four man defence, gradually aided the now 26 year old’s return to something approaching his best form by the end of the 2018/19 season.
That dramatic dip in form was uncharacteristic of Jullien’s overall impact on a Toulouse team that has routinely struggled in the bottom third of Ligue 1 for the better part of the last decade. As a result, taking his body of work in the French top flight as a whole, his move to Celtic Park can still be seen as something of a minor coup, perhaps aided by those erratic performances last tem.
With the club storming to a miraculous survival under the fleetingly inspirational management of Pascal Dupraz in 2016, having been 10 points adrift with 10 games to play, Jullien quickly struck up an understanding with Diop having joined the club in the aftermath. Riding the Dupraz wave, Toulouse lost just two of their first 10 league games at the start of the following season, a run which included wins over PSG (2-0) and Monaco (3-1) in consecutive home games.
Aggressive and intense performances were based on the towering Diop-Jullien partnership and even as the team’s form dissipated and Dupraz was eventually dismissed, Les Violets’ defensive core (included cat-like young keeper Alban Lafont, now of Fiorentina/Nantes) remained intact and arguably was the main reason the club were able to keep their collective heads above water, barely surviving via a relegation play off win over Ajaccio at the end of the 2017/18.
As a result, bigger club interest had been long running, Newcastle and Southampton both making approaches last summer for example. At his best Jullien is a dominant, powerful defender. Intelligent, technically capable and strong in the air at both ends. Although he is capable of lapses in concentration, his influence is most evident when his team are under pressure; proactive and commanding. As such, LesViolets.com, 0.5/10 ratings aside, often refer to him as ‘The Boss’.
Whilst some of his more recent displays will be a concern for Celtic supporters, the addition of Jullien is still an exciting one. It’s difficult to ignore the influence and leadership he has provided over the course of his Ligue 1 career with Toulouse, meaning Celtic are far more likely to get ‘The Boss’ than a 0.5 out of 10.
by Adam White