Wesley Fofana is signing a new long-term contract with Leicester City as he prepares to finally make his return for Brendan Rodgers.
Fofana has not played a competitive match since May after sustaining a fractured fibula and dislocated ankle in a pre-season game, but is poised to face Rennes in the Europa Conference League on Thursday.
Rodgers has compared the absence of the young centre-half to Liverpool losing Virgil van Dijk, with Leicester conceding 66 goals in all competitions this season.
Signed from Saint-Etienne for £30 million in October 2020, Fofana was outstanding in his first season and played a major role in Leicester’s FA Cup triumph over Chelsea.
Yet the horrendous ‘scissors’ challenge from Villarreal forward Fernando Nino, in Leicester’s final pre-season game, has had a significant impact on the club’s campaign, at a time when Fofana was in contention for the France national team.
After months of rehabilitation and recovery, the 21 year old returned to training last month and is now finally ready for the first-team.
Fofana has also agreed to a five-year deal and is committing his future to Leicester in another huge boost for Rodgers, after a difficult campaign.
“Having him back just brings the team to a new dimension. This is a top player, no question, who is at a top level,” said Rodgers.
“It was just a massive loss for us when he got injured, because of the way I play.
“The other guys have filled in manfully and done the best they can, but you’ve seen with the likes of Liverpool when they are missing Van Dijk and Joel Matip.
“When you’re missing Jamie Vardy and two centre-halves like Jonny [Evans] and Wesley, with all due respect to a club or team like us, that’s a big difference.”
It was only a few minutes into Fofana’s return to training when he made an immediate impression.
A brilliantly executed challenge on forward Ayoze Perez gave Rodgers an acute reminder of what Leicester have been missing, and until then the club’s medical staff have been patiently working him back.
With Fofana absent, and Jonny Evans also out with a hamstring injury, Leicester’s defense has frequently appeared vulnerable.
Caglar Soyuncu has played more games than expected, making a number of mistakes, while £15 million summer signing Jannik Vestergaard has struggled.
Rodgers operates with a high defensive line and without Fofana’s pace they have often been exposed. With other injuries, at times the likes of Wilfred Ndidi and Hamza Choudhury have had to deputize at centre-half.
In Thursday’s first leg against Rennes, however, Fofana is expected to play some part and his return cannot come quickly enough for Leicester.
Under the management of the experienced Bruno Genesio, Rennes have scored 53 goals in Ligue 1 this season: a record bettered only by Paris Saint Germain.
Fofana will have to be carefully introduced, and there should be no pressure on him to save the club’s season.
There is little doubt, however, that his eight-month absence has been more significant than anyone at Leicester could have envisaged.
“I’ve been watching him out my window [at the training ground] virtually every day, doing his recovery and rehabilitation,” says Rodgers.
“The other day he was doing an individual defending session with Kolo Toure and just seeing his physicality, his anticipation and reading of the game… this is a boy that is top level.
“I say it in the nicest way, like Jamie Vardy these players have no respect on the field. You watch the top level of the game, it’s that devilment.
“They can be the nicest guys in the world but on the field they have an edge, and Wesley has that.”