Saint-Étienne (France) (AFP) – Premier League clubs have long looked to France for young talent and the Saint-Etienne defender Wesley Fofana is just the latest unpolished diamond who could be set to head to England in a big-money move.
Centre-back Fofana is only 19 and has not even been capped by France at Under-21 level, and yet there is a growing queue of clubs eager to sign him before the transfer window closes in Europe on October 5.
Leicester City have so far offered as much as 32 million euros ($37.3m) for Fofana, while West Ham United have reportedly come in with their own bid worth up to 36 million euros, eyebrow-raising offers even if the footballing economy were not dealing with a major downturn due to the coronavirus pandemic.
So far Saint-Etienne manager Claude Puel has rejected all bids for a player he wants to have a key role in his young team this season at France’s historically most successful club, despite the money on offer being hard to turn down in the current market.
A year ago Saint-Etienne were compelled to sell another exciting young central defender to England, with William Saliba, who is just 19, joining Arsenal for a fee that could rise to 30 million euros. He was allowed to stay in Saint-Etienne last season on loan.
“If we have to sell our young players at the end of every season it is impossible for us to progress and move on to the next level,” former Leicester boss Puel said of the Saliba sale, agreed before he was appointed.
Fofana has had his head turned by the interest from England and told sports daily L’Equipe earlier this month that he was desperate to take the offer of a five-year deal on the table at Leicester. It would see him earn a huge increase on his current wage, believed to be around $20,000 a week.
“I would be crazy to say no to Leicester. This contract can change my life,” Fofana said.
But Puel, whose team have enjoyed a fine start to the new French season and top the Ligue 1 table coming into the weekend, is adamant.
“I don’t want to do anything special for one player,” he insisted.
“We could have expected this given the way we have started the season. That gets people excited and exposes us with the transfer window not closing until October 5.”
In any case, it is the lot for clubs in France these days — apart from Paris Saint-Germain — who find it harder and harder to keep hold of their best young players in the face of interest from richer leagues abroad.
Indeed, as many as 40 of the players who featured in the Premier League last weekend — across 16 of the 20 clubs — either initially broke through in the French game or were most recently playing there before joining their current clubs.
Ligue 1 may lag behind its elite European neighbours in many respects but it remains the continent’s most fertile breeding ground for young talent.
For Fofana, if he does not get the move he craves in this transfer window, it will surely only be a matter of time.
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