Arsenal striker Folarin Balogun has sent both U.S. and England fans into a frenzy as both nations look to secure the international commitment of a promising young player.
The 21-year-old, currently on loan at French club Stade de Reims, is in blistering form, scoring 17 goals in 27 Ligue 1 matches for the club. He started the season with five goals in the first six league games of the campaign, and after cooling off slightly through the World Cup break, he has picked up the pace again with seven goals in his last nine matches.
His current goal haul leaves him just two shy of the Ligue 1 lead, as Jonathan David and Kylian Mbappe both have 19.
Balogun was born in the United States to Nigerian parents, before moving to England while just two years old, making him eligible to play for all three international teams. He has played for both the United States and England youth teams in his young career.
In order for Balogun to represent the United States at the senior level, he would need to file a one-time switch with FIFA, journalist Seth Verteleny confirmed with U.S. Soccer.
MORE: Full overview of the USMNT roster for March fixtures against Grenada and El Salvador
Latest news, reports on Folarin Balogun and USMNT
There has been speculation that the 21-year-old Arsenal youngster has moved closer to playing for the United States on the international level.
Balogun left England U-21 camp officially due to an unnamed injury, but fueled rumors when he posted a cryptic message on social media, adding an Instagram story of simply a black screen with text that read “In life go where your [sic] appreciated. B easy.” Speculating, fans believed that to be in response to being left out of the England senior squad.
He then added even more fuel to the fire in late March by posting a photo of himself on his Instagram, which internet sleuths quickly figured out was in Orlando, Florida. That was confirmed as Balogun went to watch an Orlando Magic NBA game. Coincidentally (or not?) the United States national team is conducting its national team camp in Orlando before departing for Grenada to play its CONCACAF Nations League match.
Balogun was asked about reports surrounding his international future back in November, and told PUNCH Sports Extra: “I don’t have a problem with it. It’s the role of the media to ask these kinds of questions and I accept it.
“I’m going to make a decision soon and that decision will not depend on what the media or people think but on what is best for me. We will talk about it quietly with my family. Because my parents are Nigerian, their first language is Yoruba. I have a lot of family in Nigeria. My mother also has family in New York and Atlanta, with whom we exchange regularly and who sometimes visit us in London.
“And London is my city, it’s where I grew up, where my friends are, and if people ask me where I’m from, I say I’m English. But yes, I am a mixture of all these cultures.”
U.S. goalkeeper Matt Turner, who plays for Balogun’s parent club Arsenal, told media members that he has had regular contact with Balogun. “I’ve spoken to Flo, we obviously had most of our preseason together, and I knew going into it that he had some roots in the US, so him and I developed a relationship pretty quickly. And yeah, that’s pretty much the extent of it. We check in on each other here and there,” he said.
Days prior, U.S. interim head coach Anthony Hudson also admitted that U.S. Soccer has had regular contact with Balogun, saying, “With Flo, all I’ll say is there’s been — there is — open dialogue with him and his team, and that dialogue is continuing. That’s all I can say on that one.” A day before the game against Grenada, Hudson confirmed the two parties met, saying they had an “opportunity to share about our program, and that’s it.”
Folarin Balogun in contact with Thierry Henry
One other piece of Folarin Balogun’s development that could play out well for the United States is the youngster’s relationship with France star Thierry Henry.
Speaking to Football.London in late March, Balogun said the two have messaged back and forth regularly of late after first speaking in late January.
“The first time I spoke to him [Henry] in depth was against PSG [on January 29],” Balogun said. “Funnily enough, he messaged me words of encouragement before the Monaco game, I scored the winner and then we messaged after the game.
“It’s nice to get to know him on a more personal level. I’m asking him questions and he’s helping me so it’s a nice person to have in your phone. It’s nothing seriously in-depth. It’s more akin to conversations between somebody who’s seen the heights of the game and taken steps in his career than I’m now taking in terms of playing in England and playing abroad. He knows the feeling and how uncomfortable it can be so I’m asking more general questions about his career and how he felt at certain points. It’s light-hearted but allows me to take some good advice from him.”
Henry has played in the United States, spending four years with the New York Red Bulls in Major League Soccer. He retired in 2014, and Henry has spent the last two years working for UEFA broadcast partner CBS as a studio analyst. He has expressed significant interest in serving as head coach of the United States, with the position currently vacant after the expiration of Gregg Berhalter’s contract at the conclusion of the 2022 World Cup.
Folarin Balogun clubs & stats
While Balogun is an Arsenal player, he’s only made eight official senior appearance for the Gunners, all in the Europa League and EFL Cup. Consequently, he has yet to appear in a Premier League match.
Balogun spent last season on loan at Championship club Middlesbrough, before moving to French side Stade de Reims for the current campaign. He’s exploded in France, leading Reims to a top-half challenge.
Stats correct below as of March 23.
|2020/21 EFL Cup||Arsenal||1||0||0||13|
|2021/22 FA Cup||Middlesbrough||3||0||0||181|
|2021/22 EFL Cup||Arsenal||2||0||0||63|
|2022/23 Ligue 1||Stade de Reims||27||17||2||2,130|
|2022/23 Coupe de France||Stade de Reims||2||1||0||134|