Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers has no doubts that Wesley Fofana can become one of the best central defenders in the world.
The 21-year-old’s second season with the Foxes has been wrecked by a broken leg suffered in a friendly against Villarreal back in August, but he has impressed since returning in March – when he also signed a new five-year contract with the club.
Fofana scored in his first game back – a 2-1 Europa Conference League defeat to Rennes – but has not been on the losing side in any of his six appearances since, the most recent of them coming in Thursday’s 1-1 draw with Roma in the Conference League semi-final first leg.
Rodgers found fault with Fofana’s positioning when Roma took a 15th-minute lead as he was too easily drawn towards Nicolo Zaniolo, allowing Lorenzo Pellegrini space to run in behind, receive the ball, and fire under Kasper Schmeichel, but said the ingredients are there for the Frenchman to reach the top.
“He’s really going to be a top player,” Rodgers said. “For the first goal I think he has to learn, he’s still so young. His position for the goal, these are the things he has to develop, but the raw material is absolutely there.
“He’s got the speed, he’s dominant and competitive and that’s so important. Some players have the physicality but they don’t necessarily use it.
“He’s aggressive, he defends forward and once he’s got the positioning he’ll go on to be one of the leading centre-halves in football, I’ve got absolutely no question about that.”
Leicester paid around £30million to sign Fofana from St Etienne in October 2020, despite having not been able to watch him in person amid the pandemic.
But if Rodgers is proven right about Fofana’s development that could soon be seen as a bargain, and it might be a fee Leicester easily recoup should he move on to a bigger club, especially after extending his contract through to 2027 last month.
“At this moment this is an incredible place for him to be learning, playing with other fantastic players,” Rodgers said. “He’s got a chance to develop here, getting game time. He loves being here.
“I don’t think other teams missed a trick but he’s a young player who is moving very quickly in his development and he’s an important asset for us.”
Fofana’s long absence, certainly coupled with the injury problems of fellow centre-half Jonny Evans, was among the contributing factors in a season of inconsistency for Rodgers’ side.
After back-to-back campaigns of contending for a Champions League place, they head to Tottenham on Sunday off the pace in the Premier League, knowing that the Europa Conference League represents their only realistic opportunity of a third consecutive season of European football.
Leicester surrendered a 2-1 lead as they collapsed to a late 4-2 defeat at Spurs on the final day of last season, a loss which cost them a top-four finish, but one which proved a vital learning experience according to the boss.
“This game, especially for young players, it’s about learning,” he said. “When you’ve had that experience you learn from it.
“There’s absolutely no doubt you’re still going to lose late goals but there’ll be a point in your season where that experience will not allow you to do so when it’s really needed.
“That’s a game where I said clearly to the guys afterwards that you cannot lose it. You win that game. If anything that experience gave the players the knowledge that anything is possible in a game of football.”