Wesley Fofana keen to upgrade for club and country with move to Chelsea

Leicester's talented French defender wants to improve his game alongside Thiago Silva and Kalidou Koulibaly

Leicester City's French defender Wesley Fofana looks to be on his way to Chelsea. AFP
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The going rate for a talented young central defender shoots up and up. Chelsea were reminded of that when they embarked on their summer overhaul of a squad that had lost Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen to Real Madrid and Barcelona. Both were out of contract and, as the club’s new owners were still setting budgets, set off for Spain for free.

Chelsea targeted a precocious 22-year-old to fill some of the gap. After a sustained pursuit, Matthijs de Ligt preferred to go elsewhere, joining Bayern Munich from Juventus, and in doing so taking the total invested in him in transfer fees over his meteoric career past €150 million. De Ligt, a precocious captain of Ajax in his teens, joined Juve for €85m a month before his 20th birthday. Three summers on, Bayern parted with over €65m.

Jules Kounde, 23, and Kalidou Koulibaly, 31, were the next priority targets and Chelsea were successful in luring the older of the pair from Napoli. Early indications are that the authority and confidence that has made Koulibaly one of the most coveted footballers in his position for the past six years will easily translate from Serie A to the Premier League.

But Kounde turned down a transfer to Stamford Bridge, instead joining the procession of new signings at Barcelona. Barca committed €50m to Sevilla, money they have yet to show La Liga’s Financial Fair-Play auditors they can afford to spend while meeting Spanish football’s rules governing allowed expenditure-to-income. Kounde hopes that bureaucratic hurdle will be overcome in time to be properly registered as a Barca player by the weekend, having missed out on a debut in the season’s opening day draw against Rayo Vallecano.

Chelsea had no difficulties in offering as much to Sevilla as the fee Barca paid for Kounde, and are now channelling those funds - and plenty more - towards a chase for Kounde’s French compatriot Wesley Fofana. The player is keen to make the move and his club, Leicester City, had been made firmly aware of his enthusiasm to upgrade to a Champions League club and the chance to develop his game alongside Thiago Silva, the veteran Chelsea centre-back, and Koulibaly. Leicester, who bought Fofana from Saint-Etienne for €35m in 2020, have rejected two Chelsea bids so far, and have told the bidders they value the player at £80m.

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It is a vast valuation for a defender who has played just 82 matches of top-flight or European football for his senior clubs, who is only 21 and yet to win a cap for the senior France national team. But so plainly has Fofana shown his potential and maturity since moving to England that Leicester have put the same kind of price-tag on him that attached to the teenaged De Ligt, or for that matter, to another central defender whose career Leicester developed, Harry Maguire.

Maguire’s £78m (around €87m) move to Manchester United set a new benchmark for fees for defenders, in the same summer, 2019, when Bayern paid €80m to Atletico Madrid for Lucas Hernandez and Juventus bought De Ligt from Ajax.

Fofana wants to give himself the platform, in club football, that will push his claims to be considered, alongside Kounde, Hernandez, United’s Rafael Varane and rising stars like Arsenal’s William Saliba, Liverpool’s Ibrahim Konate and Bayern’s Dayot Upamecano for a role in France’s defence of their World Cup title come November.

He appreciates he has catching up to do, given that he missed most of last season for Leicester with injury. After an outstanding first season in English football, his progress was abruptly interrupted when he suffered a broken leg in a friendly against Villarreal. His recuperation took seven months, but there was little delay in his establishing that neither his strong self-belief nor his mobility had been compromised. Fofana scored, in a Uefa Conference League tie, in his first fixture back in mid-March.

By June he was in contention for promotion from the France Under-21 squad up to Didier Deschamps Bleus. “He’s the same Wesley as before,” said the France U21 coach Sylvain Ripoli, echoing his Leicester coach Brendan Rodgers' assessment of Fofana’s character and qualities and the praise he has earned from Kolo Toure, the former Manchester City and Ivory Coast centre-back who assists Rodgers and took Fofana, who has Ivorian heritage, under his wing at the club.

“You feel he loves defending, and it’s important that a defender has that relish for it,” observed Ripoli. “He covers space quickly and he has a fierce side to his game.”

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Updated: August 18, 2022, 3:09 AM