Success invariably begets further success. With that success and subsequent development on a football pitch when it comes to budding young talents there is guaranteed interest - at least in today’s current market - from some of the biggest clubs around both in the Premier League and the highest level across the continent.
But given the recent spending trends across most of the top flight of English football focusing on bringing in bright young talent from across the Channel rather than heavily relying on domestic development centers, there has been a cadre of examples regarding English youngsters being denied pathways into senior football while having to go abroad to find their feet.
In the case of Folarin Balogun, the England U21 international is yet another shining example of what can be achieved when you get the chance. However, the conundrum for parent club and Premier League leaders Arsenal is a real one when it comes to what should manager Mikel Arteta and club technical director Edu Gaspar do with the New York-born center-forward come the summer.
Currently outstripping establish global superstars Kylian Mbappé, Lionel Messi, and Neymar while topping the Ligue 1 goalscoring chart at the time of writing with a fantastic return of 14 goals under young manager Will Still at former French giants Stade de Reims, Balogun has set the world alight at Stade Auguste-Delaune in northern France across the entirety of the 2022-23 season while looking every bit the part of a front-line striker that will quickly rise well above Reims’ level.
The question for many Arsenal fans has been what the next step for the youngster should be, and a recent poll that I conducted on Twitter shed light on some of the fanbase’s thinking regards to what his immediate future should hold. Of the 1,186 that voted, over 80% opted to want the club to either reintegrate the English striker into the senior team next season or send him out on a second loan akin to the club’s handling of William Saliba last season at Olympique de Marseille.
Only 18.3% polled wanted Arsenal to cash in on the highly-touted forward and reinvest what would amount to pure profit in securing the added quality of depth needed to sustain their challenge at the top of the Premier League table moving forward.
The reality, however, is that there may be no better chance for the Gunners to sell a domestically developed, high-valued youngster for considerable financial restitution, with the club’s best example of this coming from the ~£34m sale of Alex Iwobi to Everton.
Given current market trends that have been set by massively inflated deals for the likes of Antony, Mykhailo Mudryk, and Enzo Fernández, as well as the impending sale of England starlet Jude Bellingham, postulated by some circles to go as high as up to £130m if not more, Balogun could fetch Arsenal a sizable fee if the club opted for that direction in the summer over a player who has only been bested in the goal chart across Europe by Erling Haaland, Harry Kane, and Victor Osimhen.
But who would be willing, and more importantly capable, of offering the forward the right pathway to continued progression while affording what the club could rightly charge? Here are five clubs that may look to do just that (note: this piece is in no way advocating for the sale of Balogun, and simply, is hypothesizing where he could land should the club opt to sell him outright in the summer).
Società Sportiva Calcio Napoli
In what could end up being a move along similar pretenses to former Chelsea youngster Tammy Abraham, who shifted his career from one capital to the next when he arrived at AS Roma in the summer of 2021, current Serie A leaders SSC Napoli could be an ideal landing spot for Balogun in the wake of an expected big-money sale of resident star striker Victor Osimhen.
The Nigerian international, who is currently at the head of the pack in the race for the Capocannoniere, has been heavily linked with finally leaving southern Italy in the upcoming summer transfer window given Manchester United’s continued attempts to secure a long-term option to lead the line at Old Trafford. With Osimhen sure to cost a pretty penny, Balogun (who has a similar profile according to FBref) could secure a move to a Champions League club on the cusp of establishing its own hegemony in Serie A while giving him the vital guaranteed minutes to continue his development.
Lille Olympique Sporting Club
Another plausible landing pad for Balogun would come by way of a stay in northern France just 199km north on the A26 to LOSC Lille, which has a wealth of recent success with young players in prominent positions in the senior team.
The main question here would be whether or not Canadian international striker Jonathan David, who has been the subject and focus of near-constant transfer speculation dating back to last summer (in which Arsenal was certainly involved), finally departs Stade Pierre-Mauroy with himself possibly arriving in the Premier League. Given Balogun’s documented success in Ligue 1 and Lille boasting a much bigger profile than Reims, which regularly features continental competition and certainly far less pressure for immediate success in comparison to some other clubs on this list, it would be ideal.
There have not been many better places for young talent to nurture than in the Ruhr valley at German giants Borussia Dortmund in recent seasons, and that has certainly held true when it came to English board and bread players seeking valuable minutes away from bigger Premier League clubs where chances were slim pickings. This certainly held true for Jadon Sancho and Jude Bellingham, both of whom rose to immense prominence at the Westfalenstadion as two of the top young players in the Bundesliga during their respective stints.
Though Sancho has failed to kick on during his spell at Manchester United, his form for Dortmund was undeniable, and in the case of Balogun, he would certainly have a glowing recommendation from the national team pair. There are a few caveats here, however. First, Dortmund historically avoids big-money deals when they look to acquire talent and certainly breaking the club’s transfer record for Sébastien Haller in the summer may be a deterrent. So too is the future of German wunderkind Youssoufa Moukoko, who is still a Dortmund player at current but has fielded interest from Newcastle United as well as Chelsea given the nature of his undeclared future. Though Haller is only 28, Dortmund would need competition for places in the long-term and could mobilize part of any potential fee received for Bellingham to craft a deal for Balogun while not striping the club of a chance to also secure long-term left-back and central-midfield options in the same summer window.
Brighton & Hove Albion
A somewhat outside-of-the-box possibility, Brighton’s desperate need for a long-term center-forward to lead the line, especially after the losses of Neal Maupay in the summer (and Leandro Trossard this past January), club boss Roberto De Zerbi can only call upon veteran forward Danny Welbeck, underwhelming German striker Deniz Undav, and Irish youngster Evan Ferguson.
But the play here could benefit both Arsenal and Brighton, with the south coast club boasting a highly-touted tactician in the technical area that champions progressive football, who also is the current headmaster of the coveted Moisés Caicedo; a midfielder that the Gunners have every possibility of returning for in the summer after a failed late bid during the winter window. A player-plus-cash swap involving the two, and a fee that handles the difference between the two valuations, is certainly a pathway that could be explored by the club as an avenue to secure a valued target for a drastically reduced fee well below the £80m or more which the Seagulls were on the hunt for last month.
Last, and thankfully least, the unfathomable scenario of Manchester United trying to recreate their much-maligned move for Dutch international icon and all-time leading scorer Robin van Persie which saw the Feyenoord Rotterdam youth product move from the Emirates to Old Trafford in the summer of 2012 after scoring 30-goals in the Premier League for Arsenal the very season before he moved north and at, arguably, the peak of his powers.
However, there is context to suggest that this is not entirely far-fetched. Currently, United remains on the hunt for a center-forward of note for the long-term picture after only securing Wout Weghorst on a six-month loan from Burnley, and just Anthony Martial ad the only other central player on the books as Marcus Rashford continues to shine in his preferred role on the left flank. United certainly maintains a serious interest in Osimhen, but should the Red Devils not pull the trigger on an approach for the Nigerian and look to source other solutions, with current links to Tottenham star Harry Kane and AFC Ajax youngster Brian Brobbey making rounds, a sneaky play for Balogun could, unfortunately, not be discounted.