Folarin Balogun, Reims
Ligue 1 Show

Talking Talent with Folarin Balogun

Talking Talent with Folarin Balogun

Ligue 1 Show
Publish on 03/25 at 07:34 - M. SPIRO


Folarin Balogun has lit up Ligue 1 Uber Eats since joining Stade de Reims on loan from Arsenal. The Ligue 1 Show's Matt Spiro sat down for a chat with the 17-goal striker…

Question: Folarin, thank you for giving us some time. How are you enjoying life, how are things?


Folarin Balogun: "Yeah, it's really good. I'm just enjoying the experience, learning the new language with my teammates every day. So it's good."


Question: It was a big decision for a young English player to move over here and to play in France. What was the key factory in agreeing to this loan?


Balogun: "I had a lot of advice from my agent, family and obviously the club, being Arsenal. But I think at the end of the day the key factor was just myself. I'm somebody who just wants to take a risk. I always try to push myself and put myself in uncomfortable situations because I know that's how I get the best [out of myself]."


Watch: Balogun: a rising star in Champagne country


Question: You don't have your mates and everything you know around you, so is it a case of just focusing on the football here?


Balogun: "It's not as easy being here, on a weekend I can't just shout them to go out and do something. So it's a bit more lonely, but it's taught me a lot and I've learned to be more comfortable in my own company and it's definitely helped me to mature."


Question: 'Comment ça va le français?'


Balogun: "Ummm… I think you are asking me how is my French (laughs). We have meetings every other day, analysing the opponents, and as time goes on I can understand more and more of the meetings. I've still got people to help me translate it. I'm definitely getting the hang of it, but to speak it's a bit more difficult."


Question: The coach is good at English and French. We saw him in a training session giving you a hard time for not speaking French very well. What's he like with you? 


Balogun: "Yeah, I mean Will [Still]'s fantastic. I couldn't have asked for anything better coming out here. As you said he speaks English just as good as if I were back home, and he speaks French just as good as anyone here, so it's a pleasure to have him. He's really, really good with all the players, he can also speak I think it's Flemish with the Dutch guys. So it's phenomenal. I can't praise him any more."


Question: You're enjoying life under him. What's he brought to the side?


Balogun: "Will's a very young manager and when I first came here he was the assistant. When Oscar Garcia left he stepped up to be the head coach, and he's taken that role with so much ease, and he's made it look so comfortable like he's been doing it forever. He's keeping me on my toes every day and I know I can't take a break and I've just got to keep the intensity."


Question: What advice does he give you in particular?


Balogun: "He really encourages me not to relax, you know. He thinks he sees potential in me and he wants me to achieve it. So he just wants me to be relentless and as efficient as possible."


Question: You're scoring regularly, you're looking strong, confident. How do you think you've grown through this season as a player?


Balogun: "I remember when I first came here and I played, I came on against Marseille to make my debut, and I mean the atmosphere there was crazy and it was really something that I haven't experienced before. I just thought that as the games have gone on, I've integrated more into the team. I've felt more comfortable with the French culture, and I just feel more mature as a footballer. So that's what I set out to come here to do, and I'm happy I'm starting to see it."




Question: That debut in Marseille, it must have been an eye-opener?


Balogun: "Yes, it was crazy. It was just like going into a zombie apocalypse. It was something I haven't seen before. I've played in hostile grounds in England, but for sure Marseille away for me was a very, very crazy game."


Question: It was only a consolation goal because I think you were 3-0 down, but how important was it for you to get off the mark at the Vélodrome?


Balogun: "As an attacking player, the quicker you can get that first goal, it makes life easier for you. The longer it takes, the pressure starts to build up and you start to hear things and you're almost questioning when will it come. And you're then almost trying too hard for the goal. So to get it in my first appearance and debut was really helpful."


Watch: Balogun opens his account against Marseille

Question: Three goals in your first three games here in France, you must have been thinking straight away 'this is a good choice'…


Balogun: "Yeah, as you said, three in three, I was feeling confident and I was feeling happy. So, yeah, I was filled with a lot of joy and I was confident I'd made the right choice."


Question: Did you have any role models when you were growing up, or is there anybody today who you admire or look at?


Balogun: "I looked at Ronaldo, the Brazilian one, a lot of times on YouTube. And then, a more recent example, [Kylian] Mbappé at PSG. I was only watching the World Cup with everyone else a few weeks ago. And I mean, what he has done, for someone so young, is phenomenal. He's already won it. I looked at his game, the efficiency as well, and I try to replicate it in mine."


Folarin Balogun, Thierry Henry, Reims, PSG


Question: You may be a bit young to have watched Thierry Henry in his prime. But I saw you got to meet him at the Parc des Princes. Was that a special moment?


Balogun: "Yeah of course, I can't speak highly enough of him. When I was in the youth teams at Arsenal, there was a day that he came in to coach us, and he held a finishing exercise. I think I must have been about 12 or 13. And some of the finishes he was pulling out, I hadn't seen before. So, I mean, I always admired him, and when I first got to Arsenal I could really see the importance of him in the club."


Question: The goal you scored against Auxerre, it reminded me a little bit of Thierry Henry… or even Kylian Mbappé, because Kylian has also adopted this style where he likes to come out to the left…


Balogun: "I've looked at them two players and it's no surprise that that finish, they're both really good at it. They've both mastered the technique. So definitely against Auxerre when I was in that position, it's something I practice as well. And I just was able to execute it as I wanted to. It was just a case of opening my body and putting it in the corner." 

Question: Can I ask, what did Henry say to you before the game against PSG?


Balogun: "He told me to just go for it, believe in myself. He was encouraging me to run in behind, and to really cause problems to their back four. It's always good to hear this before the game. I had an in-depth conversation, maybe 20-30 minutes, talking about just life in France and what I want to achieve this season." 


Question: And you got your photo with him afterwards…


Balogun: "Yeah I had to make sure, my friend wanted it as well. I promised him when I was speaking to him before the game, that I'd get him the picture."


Question: What sort of state of mind were you in going into injury time at the Parc des Princes [with Reims 1-0 behind]?


Balogun: "I always just try to stay focused right until the very end. And yeah, right at the end there was a long ball, and we won the second ball, which Will has been encouraging the midfielders to do all season. Luckily Kamory [Doumbia] was able to poke it forward and the rest was just history."


Question: Does time stand still when you are running through at the Parc des Princes and you've got Gianluigi Donnarumma sprinting towards you?


Balogun: "As much as it stands still, I think it happens so quick as well. I'm thinking of so many things, even that I'm not aware of, where I should take my touch, if I should chip it, or if I should go round him. A lot goes through my head when I'm one v one."


Watch: Balogun rescues a draw against PSG

Question: Once you've avoided the keeper, you know you're going to score at that point?


Balogun: "No, you still can't be complacent. There have been times in training when I've gone round the keeper, and I've relaxed and someone's cleared it off the line, or I've tried a cheeky finish. But these are things I have learned as I've got older, just finish off the job. And I was able to just smash it into the net."


Question: The biggest moment yet in your career?


Balogun: "Yeah, it didn't dawn on me until after the game. When I got back to my house I got a text from one of my friends and he said: 'you realise, that's probably the biggest goal you've scored in your career so far'. And I was like 'well actually, maybe it is.'"


Question: Do you think the fact you then scored your first hat-trick, just a few days later, do you think it was a knock-on effect of being buzzing and having that confidence as well?


Balogun: "It's a possibility for sure. But yeah, I just remember after that game, when we were preparing for Lorient, I was just, the whole team was so tired because we put so much into the Paris game. But I just know that fatigue is just a mindset." 


Question: Which is your favourite goal of the three?


Balogun: "It was definitely the last one. It was just a really, really good goal. I just remember watching a goal that Robin van Persie scored, and it was a bit similar to that, with the ball coming over the top, and just tracking it down, and then getting good contact. So it was good." 


Question: A lot of your goals have been a case of being in the right place, pouncing. Is that instinct?


Balogun: "I spend a lot of time analysing places I should be in the box and where I can find space. And I mean even when I'm watching football games just at home, of course a part of me watches them just as a fan, and I'm just as intrigued in football as anyone is, but I'm also looking to see why certain players, the ball always lands to them. So that's an initiative I've just taken upon myself." 


Question: Do you know who the last English players was to score 14 goals or more in France?


Balogun: "No."


Question: Glenn Hoddle. Back in 1989.


Balogun: "Wow, yeah, I didn't know that."


Glenn Hoddle, Monaco


Question: Quite a long time. He got 18 goals that year for Monaco. Is it a target for you to try to finish as top scorer in this league?


Balogun: "No, it's not a target for me that I initially set out with. My target was just to score 10 goals. But of course as you reach targets you create new ones. I'm not going to sit here and lie to you, of course it's going to be on my mind. After every game I want to just try and add more goals to it. And at the end of it I'm sitting at the top I'll be happy of course." 


Question: Are you keeping an eye on Arsenal this season?


Balogun: "Yeah, I mean, I can't not really. Every time I turn on my phone and I see their scores, and I just see some of my friends, obviously I still speak with them, and yeah, I'm buzzing for them. A lot of them have worked so hard, and I've seen it over pre-season. They deserve it, to be where they are. I just hope they can bring it over the line. I've grown up with Bukayo [Saka], especially, since maybe the age of 13s, 14s, and to see what he has achieved in the first team, I take inspiration from that."

Question: For you the challenge in an ideal world is to keep scoring here, go back and try to impose yourself at Arsenal?


Balogun: "Yeah I mean, contractually I have to go back. Because the loan was only for one year so that was always the agreement. But I wouldn't, um, I'm not sure what is going to happen in the future. A lot could happen in football, a lot could change, and it just depends on the conversations we have between me and the club in the summer, and we'll see what happens."


Question: Could your future even be in France and would you advise other English players to come out and try this league?


Balogun: "Yeah I mean there's no door that's closed. Of course I have had a good year here and to a lot of people it makes sense for me to come back here. So yeah I mean I don't know what the future will bring. But definitely I would advise young players to come out here. It's a really, really tough league, a league that will help you to improve. You get to play in crazy atmospheres. If you're ready to take yourself out of your comfort zone, I would advise any young player, I would advise any young player to come here."


Question: Thank you and good luck Flo for the rest of the season.


Balogun: "Thank you very much. It's been a pleasure."


>> NEWS: USMNT in 'open dialogue' with Folarin Balogun

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