Sunday, October 1, 2023

Arsenal transfer strategy emphatically paying off with Lionel Messi put to shame

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Folarin Balogun’s coming-of-age campaign continued on Sunday as the Arsenal loanee found the net yet again.

The 21-year-old is the latest star off the famed Hale End production line and the next youngster making his name away from the bright lights of The Emirates. Last season was the turn of William Saliba to thrive on loan, winning Ligue 1’s Young Player of the Year during his time with Marseille.

The Frenchman has since returned to the capital and quickly established himself as a central figure in an Arsenal team who find themselves top of the table after more than a quarter of the Premier League season.

Balogun, who signed a new long-term deal with the Gunners last year, was sent to Reims, in France, with manager Mikel Arteta hoping to see the young striker mature by playing regular football. “Before I moved, Mikel said he wanted me to develop as a man. It was kind of like an open answer and for me to interpret what he meant by develop as a man,” Balogun said.

“But by moving abroad, I’m starting to learn what he meant. 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.”

And that plan is working to perfection with Balogun emerging as one of the most exciting young talents in European football. In just 12 Ligue 1 matches he has seven goals, with his latest coming in the win over Auxerre.

On average, Balogun is scoring at an average of 124 minutes, a record which is better than Paris Saint-Germain superstar Lionel Messi. The Argentine is enjoying a significantly better season at the Parc des Princes, having struggled following his blockbuster move from Barcelona in the summer of 2021.

But his record of six goals at an average of every 161 minutes falls short of the Arsenal prodigy. Messi fans will point to his staggering nine assists and his all-round contribution, but the fact Balogun is even at the point of comparison is impressive enough.

His form has naturally bred excitement that he can be a regular contributor in Arteta’s youthful squad next season and Balogun himself has admitted that is where he sees his future.

“Arsenal is my family! For me, the club represents brotherhood and unity. There, I learned to always push my limits,” he told L’Equipe.

“I remember from training the permanent desire to progress on a technical level. For example, we had to control the ball for 45 minutes without letting it touch the ground. I even practised that this morning in training.

He continued, “Thierry Henry, the legend, who sometimes coached us, taught us that technical quality was the basis for everything. The more [quality] we have, the more time we have to decide what to do with the ball and see things before others.”

And Henry is another keeping a close eye on his exploits over the channel. Arsenal’s record goalscorer heaped praise on Balogun for going out of his comfort zone and believes it has helped add to his already rich array of talents.

“I’m really happy for him because in general English players don’t go abroad,” Henry told Amazon Prime Video. “Normally players are loaned either to another Premier League side or in the Championship.

“He’s a very English-style player who likes to run down the channels but he was missing something, which was his finishing. He’s now starting to score goals regularly and I’m happy for that – happy he has gone abroad.

“It’s especially so considering he is a Londoner, in general Londoners struggle to leave London. When I heard he was coming to France, it made me think he has a refreshing mindset.”

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