Wesley Fofana

Walsh On ‘Terrific’ Fofana

Leicester City legend Steve Walsh analyses an exciting season for 2020 summer signing Wesley Fofana, who claimed an FA Cup winners' medal at the end of his first campaign as a Fox.
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Former Foxes captain Walsh played 449 games for the Club, mainly operating as a centre-back during his 14-year spell at Filbert Street, but it was at Wigan Athletic where he made his first team bow as a 17-year-old, featuring just short of 150 times for the Latics.

There are similarities in the way Fofana rose through the ranks at Ligue 1 side AS Saint-Étienne before earning a move to Leicester, and since arriving at King Power Stadium on 2 October, 2020, he has exceeded all expectations.

From an individual perspective, Walsh has been majorly impressed with his maiden season in the English game and predicts that the 6ft 3ins defender could go on and dominate attackers for years to come.

“He’s certainly a terrific player, you can just tell as a centre-back," the LCFC TV pundit enthused. “I noticed it in probably one of his first passes in his first game. He played a blind reverse pass, it was just a clever pass and I thought: ‘wow, this lad can play football’.

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Çağlar Söyüncü & Wesley Fofana
Çağlar Söyüncü & Wesley Fofana

The French defender has excelled in City's backline alongside the likes of Çağlar Söyüncü.

“His attributes, his strength, his speed, when he heads the ball, he can only get better and better. He’s had a brilliant year and what an impact to make for his first season.

“It’s incredible for his age, first of all, and what he’s actually done this season has been amazing, it really has. To come in and hit the ground running like he has is outstanding really.”

The French defender made 38 appearances for the Foxes in all competitions during 2020/21, 35 of them as starts, having already appeared four times in Ligue 1 before joining.

He had a hand in 14 clean sheets across all formats, while only Jonny Evans made more clearances (96) than Fofana’s 92 in Premier League fixtures.

Walsh continued: “It wasn’t a surprise that he could fit in because Brendan [Rodgers] wouldn’t put him in there if he didn’t think he was good enough and could handle the situation.

He’d (Wesley Fofana) be the Matt Elliott of the Elliott-Walsh partnership because he can play, and I’d do the dirty stuff!

Steve Walsh

“You can break players if you put them in too early. Mentally, it’s not easy but he relished the challenge and he just stood out straight away as a top-class player and this is the great thing about Leicester’s recruitment.

“They’d obviously been monitoring his progress and Brendan identified this player who he believed could really come in. Big Wes [Morgan] was getting to the latter end of his career so it was vital that he stepped up and he became a man overnight.

“He’d be the Matt Elliott of the Elliott-Walsh partnership because he can play, and I’d do the dirty stuff!”

Having an experienced manager and players alongside the youngster has no doubt not only helped him to settle into the Club, but he's also learned from them.

“Maybe a couple of times he just gets out of position, which he’ll learn and pick up,” Walsh explained. “And he’s got a great mentor in Brendan to help with his pathway. They’ve just got to cut out these minimal errors.

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James Maddison & Wesley Fofana
James Maddison & Wesley Fofana

An elated Fofana celebrates Leicester's maiden FA Cup triumph with James Maddison.

“With Jonny Evans, Wes Morgan and even Çağlar Söyüncü around Fofana, it’s a great position to be in for a learning curve and it’s needed in any career because you’re going to make mistakes as a youngster, there’s no doubt.

“And it’s how you handle them, how you deal with them. That’s why that experience can really benefit your education. He’s young and he’s learning and he’s not complete yet. He bounces back the next time and you see the discipline he’s got when watching him.”

The 20-year-old slotted straight into the starting XI following his move across the English channel, adjusting to the rigours of the Premier League with the assurance and self-confidence of a seasoned international.

He commanded more touches of the ball (2,121) than any other Leicester City player bar Youri Tielemans, demonstrating his ease at playing out from the back and taking possession.  

The youngster’s composure and ability to play out of defence and find a pass is exactly what is required, Walsh believes.

These lads just get up and go again and their consistent performances are to come. They’ll learn how to manage games and that’ll be the progress that they make as a centre-back.

Steve Walsh

And yet Fofana is yet to be capped by France at senior level, currently playing in their Under-21s national squad. At such a young age, Walsh has backed him to only improve his game even further.

He predicts the forming of a long-term partnership with Turkey international Söyüncü, given their age and attributes, marking the pair out as players to build the team around in the future.

The former skipper added: “I remember I used to make mistakes and it really hurt me. Emotionally dealing with that was hard for me and sometimes I’d be on a run of two or three games playing quite badly for my standards.

“These lads just get up and go again and their consistent performances are to come. They’ll learn how to manage games and that’ll be the progress that they make as a centre-back.

“I’d like to think that centre-backs these days should be scoring six or seven goals and that’s a possibility with all of them if they learn how to attack the ball from set pieces.

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Khun Top, Wesley Fofana & Brendan Rodgers
Khun Top, Wesley Fofana & Brendan Rodgers

Wesley Fofana receives Leicester City's Young Player of the Season award from Chairman Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha.

“They’ve got brilliant technique in their skill set, using both feet, they look to try and play from the back which is needed in the modern game. They are very comfortable at doing that and attacking.

“They’ve just got everything and it’s such a terrific attribute to have. Some centre-backs are just good at heading and a bit slow, but they are quick, and they fit so well for Leicester.

“This is why I feel that Leicester are going to be a force in the next five to 10 years because the youth they are signing, but they also have that brilliant blend of youth and experience. And that team spirit is exceptional and I see it more than I do in any other team.”

Thrown in at the deep end, Fofana was a reliable presence at the heart of the defence, ably adjusting to a three, four or five at the back system with relative ease.

They are still learning what the best system is, but they are proving that any system that’s thrown at them, they can deal with it.

Steve Walsh

Walsh says that versatility is a key asset moving forward: “They have to be able to do that now. The manager will play different systems and you have to be ready for it.

“They are still learning what the best system is, but they are proving that any system that’s thrown at them, they can deal with it.

“Tactically now, shape is massive and which system you play. Leicester proved this season with different injuries, they’ve dealt with it, they’ve changed the system and the lads have adhered to that and handled it. It’s been brilliant to watch and surprised a few people.”

Assured displays in the Premier League, coupled with UEFA Europa League experiences, not to mention a major honour, it has been a year to remember for Leicester City's Young Player of the Season, Wesley Fofana.

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