Arsenal and England youngster Folarin Balogun has his first real opportunity at the top level in Europe’s big leagues this summer after the New York City-born England U21 international arrived in Champagne to join Stade de Reims on loan for the season.
Reims, a club that left its mark long ago on French football, has once again turned into a club that puts faith in youth and development after the arrival of Óscar García last season, and already has set themselves up well to re-establish their credentials in the top flight of French football with a midtable finish in 2021-22.
One of the highlights of last season was the emergence of French starlet and Reims native Hugo Ekitike, who bagged 10 goals across 22 appearances last season while becoming one of the most sought-after French youth talents in Europe, before departing for Paris Saint-Germain in the summer in what would be the biggest fee received for a player in Reims’ history.
With a massive void to fill in the number 9 role, García turned to Balogun in the summer window. According to the talent developer, the 21-year-old is the perfect profile to replace Ekitike while Arsenal could be set to benefit massively from his time away from the club this season.
In an exclusive interview with Get French Football editor-in-chief Adam White, García shed light on the development aims at Reims and why Balogun was a wanted man at the Stade Auguste-Delaune.
“It’s difficult to say [on what youngsters excite him in the Reims fold] because this time last season I wouldn’t have told you that Ekitike would become the most expensive sale in the history of the club. But I hope other players will keep developing and show their potential. But more than that, I want to keep the team in Ligue 1 as well as develop young players. I used to do that at Barcelona and Salzburg. I like to work like this.”
“We were looking for a player like him [Balogun], who can run deep, a player who looks for spaces behind defenders, as well as a goalscorer. After the departure of Ekitike, we had a problem in front of goal. We create chances but putting the ball in the net was difficult, so we were looking for a profile like his.”
Those qualities have already paid dividends for Balogun and regarding García’s eye for talent last weekend when the Arsenal loanee came on after 64-minutes and eventually bagged Reims’ lone goal during their 4-1 drubbing at the hands of Olympique de Marseille.
Though Balogun did not start the match, his instant impact could well see him trusted on Sunday when Reims host Clermont Foot at home.
Despite the summer purchase of Gabriel Jesus and the long-term contract extension signed by Eddie Nketiah, this time come next year Arsenal could well have three center-forwards of value in its ranks for the first time in years.
Whether or not his future remains in north London remains to be seen, but for Balogun, the time is now to make a massive leap in the next step of his young career.