Boubakary Soumaré

Les Bleus In Leicester – The Club’s French Connection

Following the signing of France Under-21s international Boubakary Soumaré, here’s an exploration into some former Foxes who hold connections to la République.
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The central midfielder’s move from Lille OSC, announced on Friday 2 July, signals the arrival of a third French-born player within Leicester City’s current squad. 

Going back over the last 24 years, several other Foxes have arrived from across the English Channel to great acclaim and made a name for themselves on Filbert Way.  

Goalkeeper Pegguy Arphexad is perhaps has the greatest link to Soumaré, having also played for Lille immediately before his transfer to City and was a France Under-21s international at the time of his move. 

Born in Les Abymes, a French overseas region of Guadeloupe, in 1973, Arphexad was on the books at Brest and Lille in the early 1990s before making his French Division 1 debut for Lens in 1996, featuring in the final three games of the 1995/96 season. 

The following campaign, the shot-stopper was loaned back to Lille, where he made two league appearances. Off the back of that season, Martin O’Neill brought the 6ft 2ins shot-stopper to Leicester, where he enjoyed three seasons of success. 

He became the second French player to appear in the Premier League for Leicester after Frank Rolling, a defender who came in from Ayr United in 1995, making 18 league appearances in his two-year spell at Filbert Street. 

Arphexad, meanwhile, made his English top flight bow in a 1-0 defeat by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on 18 October, 1997 - the same opposition that his first Premier League clean sheet would come against, during a 2-0 home win a little over four months later. 

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Pegguy Arphexad
Pegguy Arphexad

Pegguy Arphexad became a penalty king for Martin O'Neill's Foxes in the late 1990s.

After a total of six appearances in 1997/98, a further four league games, three clean sheets and three victories followed in 1998/99, including a 2-2 draw with Manchester United at Old Trafford on the opening day.

In fact, Leicester remained unbeaten with Arphexad between the sticks that season, as well as progressing in the League Cup after beating Chesterfield 3-1 in the second leg of the second round tie. 

The 1999/00 season was his most productive in a Leicester shirt, appearing 18 times in all competitions, playing a vital role in the Club’s latest League Cup triumph. 

Having been in goal for both legs of the second round tie against Crystal Palace, Arphexad saved two spot-kicks to see his side progress 3-0 on penalties in the quarter-final with Fulham, which was tied at 3-3 after extra-time.

In the FA Cup, meanwhile, the Frenchman was involved in four ties, including a goalless draw with Arsenal and then the replay, replacing the injured Tim Flowers in extra-time. Arphexad kept out spot-kicks from both Lee Dixon and Gilles Grimandi to help Leicester win 6-5 on penalties. 

In the Premier League, he kept four shutouts in 1999/00 as Leicester finished eighth in the table, including a memorable 2-0 win over Liverpool at Anfield on 3 May, 2000, one of his final games before moving to Gérard Houllier’s side on a free transfer that summer. 

Anthony Knockaert’s three-year Leicester City career, on the other hand, was a rollercoaster ride which involved play-off heartbreak and eventual promotion to the Premier League. 

The tricky winger, born in Roubaix in northern France, had a varied youth career before making his name at Guingamp between 2009 and 2012. 

Making his debut in 2010, a year after his first professional deal, he was soon part of the title-winning squad that were promoted to Ligue 2 and it was there that Knockaert made his appearances for France Under-20s, and later, the Under-21s squad. 

Signing for the Foxes in August 2012, his debut arrived that same month, as did his maiden goal – a free-kick against Burton Albion in the League Cup. Two months later, he scored a magnificent brace – including a long-range stunner and a scorpion kick – in a 2-0 Championship win at Huddersfield Town. 

A further two goals followed before the end of the year, during a 6-0 success against Ipswich Town and a 2-2 draw with Barnsley. Knockaert was Huddersfield’s nemesis again, scoring another double in a 6-1 triumph, while his final home goal of the campaign saw off Wolverhampton Wanderers. 

His most crucial strike of the season, though, was the winner at Nottingham Forest to send City into the play-offs, while he also assisted Andy King’s goal in that 3-2 win. The Frenchman scooped both Young Player of the Year and Goal of the Season, finishing on nine goals in 47 matches.  

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Anthony Knockaert
Anthony Knockaert

Play-off delight and then despair came to define Anthony Knockaert's Leicester career, before winning the Championship title.

There would heartbreak in the semi-final second leg, however, as Knockaert’s late penalty was saved, with Watford subsequently scoring to go through to the final on aggregate. 

Leicester and Knockaert would come back stronger the following campaign, firstly scoring twice in the League Cup, but it was in the Championship that things really started to come together for the eventual champions. 

A goal in the 3-0 win at Vicarage Road put to bed the demons of the previous season, before a four-month unbeaten run which contained three Knockaert goals. 

A seventh goal of the season was hit against Sheffield Wednesday just prior to promotion being confirmed, ultimately being the decisive strike, and Leicester went up as champions. 

In 2014/15, the midfielder made 11 appearances, starting on the opening day of the Premier League season as the Foxes pulled off a ‘great escape’ to survive relegation. After spells at Standard Liège and Brighton, he joined Fulham in 2020 and spent last term on loan at Nottingham Forest.

N’Golo Kanté is widely regarded as one of Leicester City’s best-ever signings, not just for his value for money, but also the part he played in the title-winning campaign of 2015/16. 

Despite only staying at King Power Stadium for one season, he left an indelible mark on the Club by helping them to do the unthinkable and lift the Premier League trophy. 

Arriving from Ligue 1 outfit Caen in August 2015 to little fanfare, Kanté quickly developed into one of the most important players in Claudio Ranieri’s counter-attacking system. 

The diminutive Frenchman earned plaudits for outstanding displays in the middle of the park and his stamina and tackling abilities became trademarks that pushed the Foxes on, forming an important partnership with Danny Drinkwater. 

His one and only Leicester goal came in victory over Watford on 7 November, 2015, opening the scoring during a 2-1 success at King Power Stadium. But it was his defensive qualities which set him apart from the rest and were so influential for the team’s cohesion. 

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N'Golo Kanté
N'Golo Kanté

Diminutive midfielder N'Golo Kanté spent only one season in Leicester - the Club's greatest-ever campaign.

The Parisian-born midfielder started his senior career with Boulogne in the third tier but it was at Caen where he made his name and persuaded Leicester to bring him to the Premier League. 

Having won promotion in France, he was joining a side which had also been recently promoted and then survived their first season in the top flight. What followed was the greatest season in the Club’s history, with Kanté having a big role to play. 

He was named in the PFA Team of the Year, making more tackles (175) and interceptions (157) than any other Premier League player in 2015/16 by some distance - stats which no doubt lured Chelsea into purchasing the midfielder, where he would win a second league title in as many seasons.

Since then, he has also lifted the FIFA World Cup, UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League and the Emirates FA Cup.

Nampalys ‘Papy’ Mendy, who joined the Club in the summer of 2016, remains a key member of Brendan Rodgers’ current squad. 

Although a full Senegal international at present, the defensive midfielder was born and raised in France, playing for the country’s international youth teams from Under-18s right up to Under-21s. 

Born near Toulon in the south of the country, his youth career led him to four different French clubs before earning a professional contract at Monaco in 2010, winning promotion back to Ligue 1 in 2012/13. 

It was at this one point he switched to Nice, enjoying three seasons under Claude Puel, who would later become his manager at Leicester. A fourth-place finish and some impressive passing stats convinced the Foxes to part with a reported Club record fee to land the midfielder, who stood at 5ft 6ins. 

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Papy Mendy
Papy Mendy

Senegal international Papy Mendy has represented the Foxes in both the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League.

An ankle injury hampered the start of his City career - he only played eight games across all formats in 2016/17, involving one appearance in the UEFA Champions League - and he spent the next campaign back at Nice on loan. 

He returned to Leicester to become a mainstay in the 2018/19 season, making 31 Premier League appearances, including in back-to-back wins over Chelsea and Manchester City as the Foxes finished ninth under new manager Rodgers, who joined in February. 

Mendy was restricted to just eight appearances in 2019/20, but last term was again an important member of the squad, featuring 29 times in the league, UEFA Europa League and also in the Emirates FA Cup winning squad. 

Making a total of 79 appearances for the Foxes so far, Mendy carried an impressive passing accuracy of 91 per cent in the Premier League in 2020/21. 

Another young French talent who recently arrived at Leicester City is 20-year-old Wesley Fofana. Also coached by ex-Leicester manager Puel in France, he signed from Saint-Étienne in early October 2020, following a sharp rise through the youth levels in his native France.

Born in Marseille in 2000, Fofana quickly became regarded as one of French football’s most exciting prospects during several years of academy football around the country. 

At Saint-Étienne since 2015, his first professional contract came in 2018 and, a year later, his senior debut for the club in Ligue 1, as they qualified for the UEFA Europa League. His full debut soon followed, as did his first goal to help survive relegation in 2019/20, before three clean sheets ahead of his switch to Leicester at the start of last term. 

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Wesley Fofana
Wesley Fofana

Wesley Fofana's maiden season as a Fox ended with Emirates FA Cup glory in May.

The central defender has shown confidence and maturity beyond his years to seamlessly adapt to the rigours of Premier League football, playing 28 times to guide Leicester to a second consecutive fifth place finish and earn another year of European football. 

A total of 38 appearances in all competitions comprised of 35 starts and 14 clean sheets, while Fofana’s impressive stat of 92 Premier League clearances was only bettered by Jonny Evans

The France Under-21 international’s composure on the ball and confidence to play forward passes is a key component of a modern defender’s game and is demonstrated in being second only to Youri Tielemans in the number of touches during 2020/21 Premier League games (2,121). 

He started the Emirates FA Cup Final as the Foxes lifted the trophy at Wembley for the very first time and was named the Foxes’ Young Player of the Season at the Club’s End of Season awards.

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