Club: AS Monaco
Position(s): CM, DM
Preferred Foot: Right
Strengths: Ball progression, ball-carrying, athleticism, duels, strength, vision, interceptions, tackling
Areas for development: aerial duels, discipline
AS Monaco sit atop the Ligue 1 table after three matches, level on 7 points with Marseille, after beating Clermont Foot and Strasbourg and clawing their way back from a two-goal deficit and drawing to Nantes. One player who has played a vital role in their impressive start is Youssouf Fofana, playing every single minute under new manager Adi Hutter and excelling in the double pivot alongside Mohamed Camara.
Born in Paris to Malian parents, Fofana left the capital in February 2017 and joined Strasbourg, becoming a key figure in the center of the pitch before earning a move to Monaco in January 2020 for €15 million. The high-energy, aggressive, and physically imposing midfielder is strong in duels, contesting 10.9 per 90 with a 50.6% ground duel success rate, showcasing his anticipation as well as his world-class athleticism and ability to cover plenty of ground.
He composed a formidable partnership with Aurélien Tchouameni, and this past season Fofana was very impressive alongside Mohamed Camara – both times in a double pivot 4-4-2 system, with both of the midfielders tasked with winning the ball back and progressing the ball forward to the more creative players up top. Both Fofana and Camara have the pace and stamina to cover plenty of ground and track back and make recoveries, staying back to help on defense as Vanderson and Caio Henrique push up from the fullback positions.
Fofana averages 8.14 ball recoveries, ranking in the top 8% for his position, and he’s not only great at winning the ball but progressing it in attacking transitions. His ball-carrying ability is top-notch, and his physicality along with his technical ability enables him to be a first-phase specialist, weaving through defenders and bursting into space to launch attacks, averaging 2.54 progressive carries (87th%) and 2.75 carries into the final third (93rd%).
He also progresses the ball through his passing, boasting 7.24 progressive passes per 90 (86th). When receiving or winning the ball, his first thought is to play it forward. This results in him carrying or passing the ball to a more advanced position to gain more ground on the opponent’s defence. Fofana’s vision means he loves to cut through the pressing lines with his passes and even averages 0.36 through balls per 90 – putting him in the 86th percentile for midfielders in Europe’s top five leagues.
A stellar ball-winner, Fofana’s strength and aggression make him a great tackler, engaging in 2.35 tackles per 90 despite being the more offensive player of the double pivot. Anticipating where the ball is about to go allows him to use his unparalleled stamina to get back into good positions to make tackles and interceptions (1.49 per 90). However, sometimes this high-energy, aggressive style has meant Fofana goes to the ground to win the ball too often, which has unsurprisingly resulted in plenty of disciplinary issues with 18 yellow cards and 4 red cards in the past 3 seasons. This, alongside his efficiency in aerial duels, is an area for development, but Fofana nevertheless offers plenty of steel, athleticism, and above all, a counter-attacking specialist.
Fofana is already a France international, receiving his first call-up in September 2022 and playing six of seven matches in their run to the 2022 World Cup Final. Six years after balancing amateur football with his job delivering pizzas, Fofana has established himself as one of the top box-to-box midfielders in Ligue 1 at 24 years of age, and whilst various clubs have registered interest like Nottingham Forest and Newcastle, but it seems as though he will stay put at the principality for the time being — his contract is set to expire in 2024 although Monaco have an option to extend it for another year. Nevertheless, it seems to be only a matter of time before he follows in the footsteps of Fabinho, Youri Tielemans and Tiemoue Bakayoko and becomes the latest Monaco midfielder to depart for one of Europe’s biggest clubs.
By: Ben Mattinson / @Ben_Mattinson_
Featured Image: @Juanffran / Icon Sport