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Folarin Balogun learning the true meaning of Mikel Arteta’s message to ‘become a man’ while on loan at Reims

FLO BALOGUN is learning the true meaning of Mikel Arteta’s cryptic advice before he left on loan for Stade de Reims this summer.

Arsenal boss Arteta simply told Balogun he wanted the whizkid to “develop as a man” during his temporary spell in France – and left it to the young striker to work out how to do it.

Alamy
Flo Balogun has five goals in just six league starts for Stade de Reims[/caption]

The 21-year-old appears to be on the right track with some mature displays already for the Ligue Un club, blasting five goals in just six league starts.

Balogun, who is with the England Under-21 this week, revealed: “Before I moved, Mikel just wanted me to develop as a man. 

“It was kind of like an open answer and it was for me to interpret what he meant.

“He is a very direct person if he wants to get a message to you in the moment, but I also think he thinks long term. I feel like that is his plan.

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“By moving abroad, I’m starting to learn what he meant.

“It doesn’t just mean on the pitch but also off the pitch. I think by the time I go back I’ll be in a better place to compete than I was before I left.”

Much of Balogun’s maturity mission has centred around getting to grips with the lingo, with only “three people” at Reims speaking English.

It has led to some baffling exchanges within the dressing room – but ones that the ex-Middlesbrough loanee feels will hold him in good stead further down the line.

Balogun explained: “Pretty much every training session there’s something where I’m confused about!

“There’s a few times I’m asking for simple things like, ‘Can you pass me that water’, and he’s looking at me thinking, ‘What are you saying?’ 

“The lessons are once a week at the minute, for an hour. I tried to do a bit longer but it started to give me a headache.

“It helps me mature a lot because literally you’re just fending for yourself. You have to try to communicate in different ways if you can’t speak the language.

“I think it’s very important to just throw yourself in at the deep end, as I’m trying to do, and hopefully I don’t drown!”

Balogun was encouraged by Gunners team-mate Nicolas Pepe to move to France and studied up on Ligue Un before committing to it – even if adapting to life there outside of football has come as a bit of a culture shock.

He added: “I had other options in England and that was the only option in France. 

“I felt that from watching and studying the French League, I felt it was a league I could make a good impact in.

“Before I knew it, I was in France playing. Then I realised there were certain things I would struggle with but I think that’s a good thing.

“I spoke to Reiss (Nelson) and I spoke to Nicolas Pepe at Arsenal. He encouraged me to move abroad. He told me Ligue Un would be a good league for me. He’s someone who’s trained with for a while at Arsenal now.

“Also I studied it myself and with my agents and my family. Collectively we decided it would be a good league for me.

“When I played against Lyon, I spoke to (Alexandre Lacazette) after the game and he was almost saying, ‘I told you this league is good for you’. He was just encouraging me to keep going.”

Balogun has been praised by Arsenal legend Thierry Henry for going out of his comfort zone and heading abroad.

The striker added: “I saw a bit of what he said and spoke to Thierry briefly when I was at Arsenal.

“He just encouraged me that I am at an age when I need to play. He didn’t say where I should play. but it is nice to get praise from someone who has done so much in the game and who I look up to.”

Arsenal went into the international break fresh off a 3-0 win at Brentford.

It showed how far they have come since they were humbled 2-0 by the Bees on the opening day of last season.

Due to Covid and injury problems, Arteta was forced to start a very raw Balogun in that game.

Yet the forward looks back on the difficult experience as a formative one.

He said: “When I look back on that game I feel like there is a lot of emotions even now.

“It was a very difficult time for me because I signed my deal and I was on like an up.

“To play that game on the first game of the season it was just more of a shock to me.

“It was more like a reality check – as to this is how difficult the league can be playing a newly-promoted side and we lost playing the way we did.

“Definitely it was something I needed and I am more respectful for when stuff doesn’t go my way.

“There is not much use looking at the negatives of the situation because they don’t really help you. I just try to look for the positives and focus on them.”

Meanwhile, midfielder Tyler Morton, currently on loan at Blackburn from Liverpool, has been called into the Under-21 squad.

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