Since signing for Arsenal as a 10-year-old back in 2011, 19-year-old Folarin Balogun (known also as ‘Flo’), has netted 53 times and has 15 assists at the U18 and U23 levels for Arsenal. His future, however, is a major uncertainty as Balogun has entered the final season in 20/21 of his contract as a Gunner should he decide to NOT renew this season. There is strong interest from major clubs in the Premier League as well as abroad; should he decide to run down his Arsenal contract. In this article, you will find out why he is so valuable to Arsenal’s future plans, as well as his style of play and what makes him ever so clinical.
In the spring of 2019, Balogun signed his professional contract aged 17, under the orders of former manager – Unai Emery. Having scored 34 times in 33 U18 games, he displayed his constant threat in front of goal at the U18 level and was dubbed as the next big thing following call-ups from the United States U18 squad (he holds American citizenship), and scored twice in 4 games for the US. He then went on to represent England instead at U18 level also, for the Three Lions he scored 3 times in 5 starts.
Having been so clinical aged just 17, there’s no questioning Balogun’s talent as he is an incredibly smooth and level-headed finisher, which he has proved throughout the last couple of seasons. He is able to score with his head, his usual strong right-foot and also his weaker left-foot, making him an all-round striker. His uncanny ability to find the net from the tightest of angles is what makes him so valuable. His inch-perfect ability to rapidly make his mind up and his excellent placement allow for him to choose the trajectory of the ball and where the shot ends up. But the goals are not all he had when he shined for the U18’s, his clinical passing range to pick team-mates is also superb. The hold-up play, and pace to break on a one-man counter-attack is something only a few possess.
Described by 1st-team Arsenal captain – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as, ‘A really humble guy, and a nice guy to be around. He’s like an American rapper – he’s too cool!’, shows that Balogun is down-to-earth and he appreciates where he is, even when he is one of the best at his level. Something very good to have to his personality and the older and crucial figures above his age level, really like him and the kind of guy he is.
Having proved himself at the U18 level, the Arsenal hierarchy saw fit to it that he made the transition to two levels above – the U23’s. His move came at the start of 2019 where he signed his professional contract, mid-way through the 2018/19 season. His transition was very impressive, scoring 25 times in just 19 games. This led to calls from the Arsenal fanbase to give him the valuable 1st team minutes in the 2019/20 season. Under the guidance of Unai Emery, Balogun often trained with the first team at the start of the 2019/20 season, but surprisingly wasn’t deployed in any 1st-team games. Then, following the sacking of Emery, Balogun slipped under Mikel Arteta’s radar but carried on his rapid rise and immense goal scoring tallies in the Premier League 2 – with the U23 side finishing the 2019/20 season with 10 goals and 4 assists in 13 starts.
The 19/20 season ended with Mikel Arteta deploying Eddie Nketiah, the former youth academy striker, upfront ahead of Alex Lacazette who was badly out-of-form. Nketiah debatably plays a very average game and is widely acknowledged as a ‘fox in the box’ scoring from 5-6 yards out all the time. He then entered a goal drought which left Arsenal without an in-form striker. This, once again led for calls to start integrating Balogun into the first team. And slowly but surely he started training with the first team over the 2020 summer ahead of the 20/21 season. Frustrated with his treatment under the start of Arteta’s reign, the media suggested he would be looking for a way out to gain first-team football, reports of which Arteta always downplayed.
Numerous clubs displayed a solid interest in the frontman, one of which was Sheffield United who lodged a £3m bid. The bid was swiftly rejected as the board were trying to assure Balogun a break into the first-team. The 20/21 season as I suggested earlier is the last season of his professional contract, and Balogun has been understandably frustrated having put up solid numbers for such a consistent period of time. Following the contract renewal of captain – PE Aubameyang, the board’s attention turned to Balogun’s contract issue. And pretty soon he made a tweet almost identical to the one by Aubameyang, which inevitably led to Aubameyang signing a new deal. The sand timer suggesting a deal had either been signed or was about to happen.
— Balogun (@fbalogun67) September 15, 2020
— Aubameyang P-E (@Aubameyang7) September 15, 2020
Fans will most definitely want Balogun to prove himself at the highest professional level, as he has earned his right to do so. He came off the bench at the start of the 20/21 season in the Europa League and began regularly training with the Arsenal first-team.
The bench appearance vs. Dundalk gave him his first glimpse of first-team football and he seemed at home. Bringing his youth-level qualities to the first team. Such as his pressing quality, hold-up play and clever runs in behind.
His rise and loyalty at Arsenal should earn him first-team football under Arteta, but that relies on whether he renews his deal and stays patient in a heavily talented era of academy youngsters. One thing is for sure, and that’s the fact that he is a special talent, and he will play at the top level. Whether his future lies in the Arsenal first-team or elsewhere remains to be seen but if he does sign his long-term future to Arsenal, he will soon get his chance to flourish under the spotlight at the Emirates.
A piece by Ibrahim from @HaleEndArsenal.
Passionate about the Arsenal, haven’t missed a single game since 2012, and would like to break through into the mainstream as I try to progress my career in the world of Sports Journalism.