Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Balogun storming the Ligue 1 charts …

Morning, a quick Friday ramble for you.

As we fret over our lack of depth at centre-forward, just across the English channel and then down a little bit and then over a little bit, an Arsenal player is banging them in in Ligue 1.

Folarin Balogun is currently on loan at Reims, and yesterday scored twice in their 3-1 win over Rennes. That takes him to 10 goals in Ligue 1 so far this season, putting him in pretty decent company near the top of the goalscoring charts:

With three assists to his name too, that means Balogun has been involved in 13 of Reims’ 19 goals in the league this season. To have such an impact at a mid-table side, where chance creation is not as prolific as it would be at other clubs, is a very impressive return for a player who took himself out of his comfort zone this season.

He went on loan to Middlesbrough in the second half of last season, but this time around he chose to go to a new country, with all that entails when it comes to language and all the rest, and it looks like it was a very good decision. There was a touch of Arsene Wenger to the way Mikel Arteta spoke to the 21 year old about his pathway before he chose to go to France. Balogun explained back in September:

“Before I moved, Mikel just wanted me to develop as a man. It was kind of like an open answer and it was for me to interpret what he meant by ‘develop as a man’.

“By moving abroad, I’m starting to learn what he meant by that. It doesn’t just mean on the pitch but also off the pitch. I think by the time I go back I’ll be in a better place to compete than I was before I left.”

It reminds me of stories told by players under Wenger who would seek advice or guidance, and rather than be explicit, he would guide them towards their own answers. I think it’s fair to say that didn’t always work, but this wasn’t just for young players. Finding that balance between instruction and education, and letting people think for themselves, is not always easy. Let’s face it, there are some people who just need you to be explicit with them. Give an order, they carry out the order etc.

But there are others who thrive with that bit of freedom to interpret what’s being said; the ability to make a decision and to live or die by it (in metaphorical terms obviously). Clearly Balogun’s loan this season, after signing a new deal with Arsenal, was going to be hugely important. He hadn’t played a lot of senior football, and for his own development he needed to do that. I’ve seen calls for him to be recalled to give us depth at centre-foward, and I can understand that. It’s something I’m a bit worried about, but again it’s the balance between what’s best for the club and what’s best for the player in the longer term.

I can’t see it happening unless there’s some kind of injury crisis, and I’m not even sure if there’s a January recall clause. There might be, but I wonder if it might have a cut off date in it after which we can’t bring him back even if we wanted to. Anyway, let’s hope we solve that depth issue in another way, and that Balogun can continue to score goals this season.

If he does, he’ll return to Arsenal a much better player, and the conversation about competition for places in the summer time will certainly be an interesting one. Also, given his quality and the fact he was born in New York, the US would be absolutely mad if they weren’t courting him about his international future.

One to watch, perhaps.

I do not have a Pele anecdote. I don’t really have a favourite Pele memory. He was just always there in my football consciousness. He was ubiquitous. His name was a byword for greatness.

“Who do you think you are, Pele?!” – a schoolboy shout at some lad who tried to dribble through an entire team when he clearly wasn’t capable of doing so. It meant that only Pele could realistically think of doing that though, simply because he was considered the best by those who saw him. By those who wrote and spoke about football. And that legacy never really faded.

Great players come, great players go, but legends endure. And he was one.

RIP.

Right, that’s your lot for this morning. There’s a brand new Arsecast for you below, examining some of the transfer links, looking ahead to the Brighton game, and lots more. Happy listening.

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