Few world football clubs have operated more effectively in the transfer market than Leicester City in recent years.
Continuing the philosophy of data-driven recruiting implemented by Nigel Pearson and Steve Walsh, Leicester have consistently sold players well above their value and signed replacements, if not improvements, for a fraction of the price.
When Chelsea triggered N’Golo Kante’s release clause in 2016, Wilfred Ndidi was arrested a few months later to fill the void. A year later they (somehow) forced the Blues to pay £ 35million for Danny Drinkwater, money which they reinvested in Harry Maguire of Hull City, who would become the defender. the most expensive in history.
Likewise, when Riyad Mahrez was finally cleared to leave for £ 60million in 2018, the costs were spent on James Maddison, Caglar Soyuncu and Ricardo Pereira, three players who are now among the best in the Premier League.
The following summer, half of the £ 80million spent on Maguire was used to bring in Youri Tielemans, while James Justin, Ayoze Perez and Dennis Praet were also recruited with the rest of the funds.
This season, further evidence of Leicester’s midas touch in the transfer market has continued to come. After selling academy hopeful Ben Chilwell to Chelsea for £ 45million, the club quickly signed versatile Timothy Castagne, before turning to an additional center-back.
The saga that finally saw Wesley Fofana signing from Saint-Étienne in October has been a laborious one, with former Foxes boss Claude Puel using it in revenge on his former employers. In the end, a fee of over £ 30million was agreed, far less than the obscene £ 50million they cited for James Tarkowski, but still heavy for a fairly unproven 19-year-old.
Any concerns that Fofana was not fit for the Premier League were quickly dispelled in his first appearances. Thrown into the depths due to an injury to Caglar Soyuncu – who was part of last season’s PFA Team of the Year – he made his debut in a narrow 1-0 loss to Aston Villa, his first touch being a perfect Cruyff turn. . Since his debut, Fofana has missed only one game in all competitions, turning heads with his attractive defensive style.
Despite his inexperience, Fofana’s most powerful weapon is excellent positioning, combined with good judgment of when to break free from the defensive line to win the ball. This season, Harry Maguire – who has played four more games – is the only defender to record more interceptions than him, which testifies to these two attributes.
In all of the other traditional attributes demanded of a top-quality center-back, Fofana also excels. His 3.3 jumps won per game is the 21st best record in the league and he is superior to Eric Dier, Tyrone Mings and Michael Keane.
Tackling and blocks are another part of his game, and unlike others, he manages to make both of these chases look effortless and graceful. This elegance is also present whenever he’s on the ball. Much like Maguire and Soyuncu before him, Fofana loves to gallop through lines and launch counter attacks.
This season he ranks in the top 10 for progressive distance among Premier League center-back and currently he travels further every 90 minutes than Liverpool’s Andy Robertson. A pretty remarkable statistic. He’s also an elegant ball passer and often fills progressive balls so Tielemans can turn around.
Besides possessing raw and limitless abilities, what has been even more impressive about Fofana this season is his mental toughness. Although he doesn’t speak English at a particularly high level, he immediately blended into his surroundings, always looking for calm.
HI’s tactical flexibility should also be noted. During his career at Saint-Etienne, Fofana gained experience in a three-back and four-back, which has helped facilitate Leicester’s increased tactical flexibility this season. Whether on the right side of a trio or in a central defensive pair, the youngster approached the task with minimal fuss, consistently ranking himself as one of the best players on his squad.
In what has been a pretty remarkable season so far, finding another hidden gem in Fofana has to be one of Leicester’s highlights. The Foxes can expect many more seasons of service from the Frenchman, or, perhaps more likely, another record-breaking transfer fee from one of Europe’s biggest clubs. He really is that good.