The symbol of Lens' remarkable rise, Seko Fofana is the team's engine and inspiration. He helped Les Sang et Or finish seventh in their promotion season, and the midfielder now has them just outside the top five.
Lens' captain is a tireless runner and a powerful presence. Signed for 10m euros from Udinese in 2020, the club's record signing is worth every penny.
Fofana surprised a few when he turned down clubs from Italy and England in favour of Lens, but he decided to listen to his heart and hasn't looked back since. Outstanding last season, the Ivorian scored two goals and set up three more, but his influence can't be portrayed by mere statistics.
"We need strong, quality players," RC Lens boss Franck Haise told the Ligue 1 Show on beIN SPORTS, "and that's exactly what he is."
Fofana started this season in stunning fashion. The Paris-born midfielder has got Lens fighting for a place in the top three, setting the example for the team that has had more shots on target than any other. The former Lorient, Manchester City, Fulham and Bastia tyro finally looks settled and at home in northern France.
The box-to-box midfielder netted three goals in his first four league games this season, and it's no surprise some of Europe's biggest clubs are interested in him. Fofana's superb display in Marseille, in Ligue 1 Uber Eats Round 8, helped Les Sang et Or clinch a memorable 3-2 win.
"We know he's a top player," said Lens 'keeper Jean-Louis Leca at the Stade Vélodrome. "Tonight, the captain was our inspiration… he's raising the standards of those around him."
Fofana hit his fifth goal of the season - level with his personal best in a first division season - in an inspirational performance when Lens came close to beating Paris Saint-Germain at the Stade Bollaert in Round 17, but the midfielder refuses to take all the credit.
"I'm lucky to be playing with great players - they are the ones who are making me look good. I just want to work for them, and give my all in every game," said the man of the moment. "When you get the rewards like that, it makes you want to continue… to keep on working and getting better.'
The No8 contributes both with and without the ball, working hard to close down opponents and win the ball back but also dovetailing nicely with Cheick Doucouré and Gael Kakuta when Lens have the ball.
Lens will have a job on their hands holding on to the 26-year-old, who is under contract until 2024. For now though, they want to enjoy his talents… and Fofana will certainly be one to watch when Lens travel to take on fourth-placed Nice in the final round of Ligue 1 Uber Eats action for 2021 on Wednesday 22 December.