Wesley Fofana revealed a striking blond haircut this week
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Wesley Fofana revealed a striking bleached blond haircut at Leicester’s training ground this week although, in truth, this is one young footballer who will never have a problem in standing out.
Fofana was Leicester’s £30 million signing on transfer deadline day and already appears a frighteningly good prospect, with the French teenager set to test himself against Premier League champions Liverpool on Sunday – one of the most intriguing sub-plots in what is already one of the games of the season.
The garish new hairstyle will make him impossible to miss at Anfield, yet it is his impact on the pitch which has really caught the eye since moving from Saint-Etienne. Days into training with his new-team-mates, Leicester’s squad were all “blown away” by the potential of Fofana, who still has only 24 league starts to his name.
After just seven appearances under Brendan Rodgers, he seems to be a centre-back with it all: positional awareness, a fine range of passing, rapid pace, heading ability and excellent defensive decision-making skills for a player at such an embryonic stage in his career.
Fofana has made 20 interceptions, more than any other teenager in Europe’s top five leagues this season. As Gerry Taggart, the former Leicester centre-back who has watched Fofana closely since his arrival, said this week: “I can’t find any fault in his game.”
Fofana only made his France under-21s debut last month but Didier Deschamps, the national team manager, is already facing a clamour to promote him to the senior squad. It is still early days, of course, and inevitably Fofana is going to make mistakes, but early evidence suggests he is another triumph for Leicester’s recruitment team.
The £30 million transfer fee was undoubtedly high, yet it was also still lower than the one demanded by Burnley for Leicester’s other target James Tarkowski, and it required weeks of bartering from director of football Jon Rudkin. Fofana also pushed hard for the move, despite rival interest from West Ham.
Leicester are flying high this season
The fee paid by Leicester could eventually rise on instalments, taking the overall price closer to £35 million, but we are talking about a player who could easily be worth triple that amount in years to come.
Leicester have banked nearly £200 million from the sales of Riyad Mahrez, Harry Maguire and Ben Chilwell in the last three years, and it is tempting to wonder what figures they could demand for Fofana in the future if he continues to develop at such speed.
Indeed, Fofana’s emergence over the last 12 months begs the question as to how perceived bigger clubs such as Manchester United and Arsenal failed to properly pick up on his development last season. Arsenal signed William Saliba from Saint-Etienne for £27 million last year, yet he has not played for Mikel Arteta’s first-team and was not even included in their Europa League squad.
Saliba played alongside Fofana last season, after being sent back to the Ligue 1 club on loan, but at this moment the career trajectories of the two 19-year-olds could not be more different.
Rodgers, the Leicester manager, calls Fofana a “silver medallist” as his path to senior football was unconventional and came late. He grew up in a Marseille suburb where money was tight, playing in local junior teams, and did not join Saint-Etienne until the age of 14. Making his first team debut four years later, it was in the 2019-20 season that he began to establish himself.
Leicester had been aware of him even before then, watching Saint-Etienne II [Under-23s] matches which are now readily available to recruitment teams across the world. Fofana was flagged up and researched by scouts and analysts, who then compiled clips before making their presentation to Rodgers. The recruitment team, led by Lee Congerton, undertake all sorts of checks on prospective signings and, for Leicester, conduct off the pitch is equally important as the target’s performances on it.
Fofana appeared 20 times in all competitions for Saint-Etienne’s first team last season, with his team finishing fourth from bottom under former Leicester manager Claude Puel, and his progress was remarkably quick.
Rodgers has admitted it was his performance in last season’s Coupe de France final, against a Paris Saint-Germain team boasting an array of stellar talents including the likes of Kylian Mbappé, Neymar and Mauro Icardi, which ultimately convinced him he was ready for the Premier League.
Fofana is known as ‘Little Wes’ at Leicester’s training headquarters, but in truth his reputation is only growing. Against Wolves, in Leicester’s last game before the international break, he produced arguably his best performance yet. Sunday’s encounter with the champions represents a litmus test of his abilities, but nobody expects him to buckle.