sport news The Arsenal striker outscoring Messi! Balogun is flourishing in France with the ... trends now
It turns out the education Folarin Balogun received in England was scant preparation for this trip across the Channel.
'I did a bit of French in school but it wasn't enough,' the 21-year-old smiles. All he could remember? 'Just bonjour…ca va,' he says. 'There wasn't much more than that.'
Fortunately, his years spent studying at Arsenal's Hale End Academy, and a brief secondment to Middlesbrough, stood him in rather better stead.
'In the beginning there was a lot of anxiety,' admits the young striker, who is spending the season with Stade de Reims.
'But as time has passed, I've just applied myself and adapted to the culture as best I could. The results are showing on the pitch.'
Reims loan star Folarin Balogun has scored more than Lionel Messi and Neymar this season
Not half. Balogun has scored 17 Ligue 1 goals; only two players have more and one is Kylian Mbappe.
This 21-year-old is outstripping Lionel Messi and Neymar. He became the youngest player to hit 17 goals in their debut season in France's top flight since 1956.
'It's been a rollercoaster of emotions,' Balogun says.
A remarkable ride that perhaps poses more questions than answers.
The forward signed a new, long-term deal at Arsenal in 2021. Now he, Mikel Arteta and Co have plenty to ponder for this summer and beyond.
'I haven't thought that far if I'm honest,' Balogun says. 'What I've been able to do so far, I'm sure it's making a lot of noise - not just at Arsenal but everywhere. It's just about continuing that, staying focused and helping the team.'
Nor is he reading too much into those scoring charts.
'Honestly, it doesn't really do anything for me, Balogun admits. 'It would be very fickle to think: 'Because I've got more goals than Messi or Neymar…' It doesn't mean anything…. also, the season's not finished.'
There remains plenty of learning to do – at the training ground. In the kitchen. And in the classroom.
'I'll be honest,' he says. 'I've developed on the pitch but off the pitch my cooking and house maintenance has stayed the same.' That means a lot of 'improvising' and help from team-mates.
'I definitely still have work to do.'
Same goes for the striker's language skills.
Reims' young manager Will Still, 30, likes to poke fun at Balogun's French.
'I take two lessons a week and I'm trying my best but I'm not the fastest learner,' he says. 'When we're on the pitch I'm just trying to learn the important phrases so I can communicate with (team-mates) but it's not going to come overnight.'
Results in front of goal arrived rather more readily.
'The conversations I had when I came to the club was to not get relegated,' Balogun says.
Heading into the final straight, Reims are chasing a European spot.
Balogun has scored 17 Ligue 1 goals; only two players have more and one is Kylian Mbappe
The 21-year-old striker has impressed the staff at Reims with his work ethic and quality
Balogun's goals have been pivotal to that