Leeds: Seko Fofana is a Phillips upgrade

Leeds United oversaw a vast summer overhaul, in which Jesse Marsch splashed out €104.3m (£92.4m) to mould the team in his image.

The American clearly focused his attention on midfield, where he added Tyler Adams and Marc Roca to replace Kalvin Phillips, who had departed for Manchester City that summer.

The academy graduate was a stalwart in the engine room for the Whites, having inspired their return to the Premier League and a successful first season back in the top flight. However, his injury issues led to him becoming expendable and unreliable, and as such he was sold.

Leeds could be set to finally get that big upgrade for which they have been yearning, in an effort to find that final piece to add complete balance to Marsch’s midfield.

Having sent Victor Orta to sound out some potential candidates, one of the targets with whom he returned is reportedly Seko Fofana of RC Lens.

The 27-year-old has enjoyed a fine career so far, which surprisingly began at Man City’s academy.

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It was during Fofana’s time in England that journalist Rob Dawson highlighted him as “an absolute monster of a player”, clearly envisioning the career that he would have. He has since gone on to star in Italy and France, with his recent performances in Ligue 1 earning widespread praise.

Boasting an eye for goal, immense physicality and a varied skillset, Fofana is arguably everything that Phillips was and more in midfield.

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This is highlighted in his underlying statistics, in which he ranks in the top 2% for total shots and the top 3% for dribbles completed among positional peers in Europe’s top five leagues over the past 12 months. He pairs this with an 88.2% pass completion rate which suggests that, despite his desire to push forward, he also retains the ball quite well (via FBref).

The Ivory Coast international has translated these attributes into impressive form this season, recording a 7.12 average rating from Sofascore.

On initial glance, his defensive duties could be seen as somewhat lacking, as he has only managed 0.8 tackles and 0.7 interceptions per game. The former metric is far outstripped by Adams and Roca, who have recorded four and 2.2 tackles per game respectively, although Fofana’s work rate has still come in for high praise.

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Journalist Adam White outlined the 6 foot 1 maestro for praise in that regard, stating a year ago: “He’s also had a series of standout displays against the bigger clubs in the league. He was relentless in the 3-2 win at Marseille earlier this season and his goal and typically all-action display deserved to beat PSG too. 

“He manages to play midfield enforcer, creator and dynamo all at once, it’s quite incredible.”

Although Phillips was exceptional in his first season in England’s top flight in 2020/21, receiving a 7.21 average rating from Sofascore, this was not sustainable given his injury issues. His rating dropped to 6.84 last term and, having barely featured in the current campaign, his current seasonal rating is 6.60.

This season alone has seen Fofana dwarf Phillips’ 85% pass accuracy from 2020/21, and his six goal contributions have already surpassed the 27-year-old’s three from that campaign too. 

In almost every metric, the Lens titan comes out on top. Therefore, it makes perfect sense for Marsch to sign him, no matter the price, and finally move on from Phillips’ exit from Elland Road last year.