At 28 years of age, Seko Fofana has played for a wide variety of clubs in Europe. Born in Paris to Ivorian parents, Fofana spent time at Paris FC and Lorient before heading to Manchester City in 2013, where he would hone his trade under Patrick Vieira before being loaned out to Fulham and Bastia. A permanent move to Udinese followed, where he would spend four years before making the move to newly promoted Lens for €10 million, signing a four-year contract on August 18, 2020.
It is here at the Stade Bollaert-Delelis that Fofana has excelled and made a name for himself as one of the best central midfielders in Ligue 1. Having excelled in the center of the pitch as Lens finished 7th in 2020/21, narrowly missing out on Europe on the final day of the season, Fofana would take his game up another level in 2021/22, winning the Ligue 1 Player of the Month for September 2021.
Lens would finish seventh and miss out on Europe on the final day once more, but Fofana’s performances would nevertheless see him win the Prix Marc-Vivien Foé, an award given to the best African footballer in Ligue 1. Whilst his Malian midfield partner Cheick Doucouré was sold to Crystal Palace, Fofana remained put, signing a contract extension through 2025 in August.
Salis Abdul Samed arrived from Clermont Foot to fill Doucouré’s void and has formed a sensational pairing in midfield alongside Fofana. Today, Lens sit second in the table, two points above Marseille, eight above fourth-placed Monaco, and they look set to return to the Champions League after 21 years thanks in large part to Fofana’s stellar performances under Franck Haise.
The above figure shows Seko Fofana’s stats from FBRef and indicates that his strengths are his Non-Penalty xG, Shots, Progressive Carries, Take-ons and Progressive Passes Received per 90. This shows that he is very effective at driving the team forward from midfield, using his ability to run with the ball and carry the ball forward into dangerous areas, as well as receiving the ball in progressive areas to create chances for his team and get shots away.
In this season alone, Fofana has scored 7 goals and provided 5 assists in 36 appearances for Lens. Les Sang et Or tend to play a 3-4-3 but sometimes opt for a 4-2-3-1 which Fofana can occupy any of the midfield roles in these systems. In a 3-4-3, Lens deploys Fofana in a two-man midfield with the ability to go box to box, whereas in a 4-2-3-1, Fofana has been used in both the CDM position and the CAM position, showing his versatility.
As seen above, Seko Fofana is isolated in midfield facing his defense. Instead of passing backwards, he uses his strength and gravity to feel the opposition defender on his back. He then uses the weight of the pressuring defenders to spin off of him and stride into the space beyond the opposition midfield using his power.
Fofana’s ability to drive from midfield derives from his physique much like Paul Pogba and Yaya Toure. His 3.50 Progressive Carries per 90 and 1.78 Take-ons per 90 show that this is one of the main facets of Fofana’s game.
In the above example, we can see an example of Seko Fofana making a run into the box in a goal-scoring area. His ability to arrive late in the box and make these runs is one reason that his Non-Penalty xG numbers (0.20), Shots (2.44) and Progressive Passes Received (7.00) are as high as they are. His Progressive Passes Received metric is one that stands out, as Fofana receives 7 per 90. This ranks in the top 97% amongst midfielders and shows his ability to take up advantageous positions in the attacking third to help his team progress and create chances.
The 28-year-old midfielder has shown his ability to arrive in the box from deep and score goals his entire career, scoring 33 goals at senior level. His recent seasons with Lens have been his best goal-scoring seasons to date, contributing 10 goals last season and 7 goals so far this term. In total, he has 18 goals from 103 appearances for Lens since arriving in 2020.
Seko Fofana has been an ever-present and integral part of Lens’ success this season, sitting second in Ligue 1 on 72 points with 4 games remaining. Lens have only lost once in the past 11 league games, that loss coming against league leaders PSG. They will host Will Still’s Reims before traveling to Lorient, hosting Ajaccio — all but guaranteed to be relegated — and closing out their season with a trip to Auxerre, who sit two points above the drop.
With the success of Lens, it is expected that a raid could be imminent this summer with top European clubs sniffing around. The likes of Lois Openda, Facundo Medina and of course Seko Fofana all being touted for moves. This could strike a resemblance to the Monaco raid when Monaco beat PSG to the Ligue 1 title and subsequently lost the likes of Fabinho, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Thomas Lemar, Bernardo Silva and Kylian Mbappe to other top European outfits.
In conclusion, Seko Fofana has many facets to his game but his ability to use his strength and power to drive through midfield and play box-to-box makes him a very interesting prospect. At 28 years old he is in the prime of his career, and could be ready to make a big move for the prime years of his career to compete for major honors. With goals, assists and press resistance, he would be a top acquisition for several top-level European clubs, and after Cheick Doucouré, Jonathan Clauss and more, he could be the next Lens player to get a big move.
By: Connor Holden / @ConnorHolden00
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / DeFodi Images