Burnley transfer target Seko Fofana first arrived in England aged 18 but if the Clarets were able to secure a deal for the midfielder he would return as one of the France’s most successful players.
The Ivory Coast international joined Man City as a teenager, and immediately comparisons were drawn to compatriot Yaya Toure, then a main figure in the Etihad first team.
Fofana has caught the eye at youth level, playing under Patrick Vieira and impressing in the middle of the park.
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“Yaya Touré is a player who inspires me a lot. He has a huge influence on the style of Man City and I learned watching him play,” Fofana said in 2015.
“Patrick Vieira helped me improve every day. He was a great player in my position so his advice is good. He knows how to get the best out of the group and I think he has the qualities required to become a great coach. .”
But as City continued to invest in experienced, expensive and exciting first-team talent, the Paris-born player couldn’t see a way out.
This led to loan spells at freshly relegated Fulham in the Championship where he made 25 appearances and scored once.
He then returned to France to join Bastia in Ligue One before making a permanent move to Italian side Udinese.
Although he didn’t find a path at City, it was a rich learning curve for Fofana.
“In front of me, I had almost the best players in Europe,” he recalls. “You learn quickly that you haven’t done anything in football. I was very, very far from the top level. It opened my eyes. The first time I went to train with the first team, I I only saw big names, and I could I don’t think I was there.”
As well as coach Vieira and star man Toure, Fofana welcomed Samir Nasri and David Silva, learning not only from their abilities but also their professionalism.
This helped to ensure that when the midfielder went on a permanent outing in 2016, he was able to hit the ground running at Udinese.
He was a hit in Serie A and is said to have caught the eye of several top clubs with Lazio and Inter Milan among those linked as Atalanta came close to signing.
But Fofana wanted a return to his native country and signed for newly-promoted Lens in the summer of 2020.
It was a decision based on family as well as football.
“After the season in Italy, I wanted to come back to France,” he said.
“With COVID, I was separated from my family and friends for a long time. It was a scary situation for us. After seeing that Lens was interested in me, and I saw that they were serious , I saw myself being nowhere else than Lens Atalanta was very close to concluding an agreement with Udinese, but it was useless, because in my head, I was already there.
“I went where my heart took me. Today I have no regrets.”
He shone in his debut season, helping Lens to seventh, and has continued to thrive this season.
He is an all-action midfielder, capable of scoring odd goals, but also an energetic player who is aware of his defensive requirements.
He received the captain’s armband and led by example in a 3-2 win over Marseille in September, prompting Lens keeper Jean Louis-Leca to hail Fofana’s importance.
“We know he’s a top player. Tonight the captain was our inspiration,” said Louis-Leca. “He raises the standards of those around him.”
Lens currently sit sixth in the table and are likely to demand a fee in excess of £20m for a player they have only had for 18 months.
Burnley, boosted by the windfall of selling Chris Wood to Newcastle United for £25m, have reportedly made initial contact with a suggested fee of around £14m.
That seems unlikely to secure a deal for a player who ranks among the top 25 players in the division, according to Whoscored.com.
Considering Kylian Mbappe and Lionel Messi are among the names ahead of him, it highlights the company Fofana is keeping.
He first came to England idolizing some of the best players in the world, now he is mentioned among them.
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