Folarin Balogun says his decision to join French side Reims was a response to Mikel Arteta’s challenge to use this season to ‘develop as a man’.
Approached by clubs at home and abroad, the England under-21 international took the path less travelled by opting for an adventure in Ligue 1 and has, so far, impressed with five goals in six league starts.
His decision to cross the Channel certainly got Thierry Henry’s attention, who told Amazon Prime Video in France: “When I heard he was coming to France, it made me think he has a refreshing mindset.
Back in England for international duty with the Young Lions, Balogun reflected on how the latest stage of his career is going.
“Before I moved, Mikel (Arteta) just wanted me to develop as a man,” he said.
“It was kind of like an open answer and it was for me to interpret what he meant by ‘develop as a man’.
“By moving abroad, I’m starting to learn what he meant by that. 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.”
While things are going well on the pitch, the striker admits his real challenge over the coming months will be to learn French so that he can better integrate with his teammates.
“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.
“Pretty much every training session there’s something I’m confused about so I’ve got to ask a lot of questions, I’ve got to pick up on key words and that’s how I’m learning the language at the moment.
“Just asking questions and, if I’m not sure on something, trying to remember phrases I’ve heard before.
“If you sit on the edge, it will take longer to understand things. I’m still learning the language. I’m going to be learning it for a long time.
“It’s difficult but I’m trying my best to integrate myself with everyone. The (French) lessons are once a week for an hour. I tried to do a bit longer but it started to give me a headache.
“You actually need it a lot, because there are maybe only three English-speaking people at the club. The players just speak French.”
Balogun is still keeping an eye on what’s going on at Arsenal and was pleased to see a fellow academy graduate make their debut at the weekend. It turns out the attacker was already familiar with 15-year-old Ethan Nwaneri.
In an interview with Sky Sports, he revealed: “I noticed he trained with us a few times. I spoke to the ’18’s manager. He told me that ‘he’s a really good player’ and he said that ‘he has a bright future’.
“I definitely had an eye out for him, then it was just really good to see making his debut. You hope that he can carry on impressing and staying in the first team.
“There have been a lot of players in the past who have kicked on really early. The likes of Reiss Nelson and Bukayo (Saka). They made their first team really early.
“Bukayo I think made his debut at 17. I am sure Arsenal have a plan for him. I am sure if he keeps his head down and works hard, then he will see through that.”