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David Datro Fofana: Were Chelsea right to place him at Union Berlin?

COMMENT: Right competition. Right club. But has it worked? Has Chelsea's decision to place David Datro Fofana at Union Berlin actually helped the footballer?

Raw. Inexperienced. But also explosive. If ever there was a 'project player', David Datro Fofana of Chelsea is it. At 20 years of age. Out of Norway's Eliteserien and Molde. No-one expected Fofana to pull up any trees when arriving in January. Expectations were low. One for the future 'n all that.

Which was why, for this column, it was a surprise to see Chelsea's brainstrust, Paul Winstanley and Laurence Stewart, place Fofana at Union Berlin in August. A top four club in the Bundesliga. A Champions League participant - for the first time in their history, no less. The step up from the Eliteserien was always going to be a stretch. Even the late Mino Raiola and father Alf-Inge had Erling Haaland make the intermediate step to Austria before listening seriously to Borussia Dortmund.

But as we say, in terms of the Bundesliga, Union Berlin did represent a good fit. A quiet club... we'll get into that soon. A club punching far, far above it's weight. Demands not sky high. Press coverage drowned out by local giants, Bayern. The doubts about handling the Bundesliga apart, you can understand Winstanley and Stewart handpicking Union Berlin for Fofana in this next phase of his development.

So has it worked? Well, this is one where the jury's still out - and that's on all sides. One goal and an assist in 16 games isn't exactly headline making. That solitary goal coming in the Champions League at Napoli. The 1-1 draw at the Maradona a rare highlight in Union's season. For 11 appearances in the Bundesliga, Fofana is yet to break his duck - though it's not from a want of trying.

And that frustration in front of goal has boiled over. Union's coaching staff have tried to ease the player's concerns. Fofana has primarily led the line for his loan club this season. And he's felt the weight of that responsibility. No matter the support from those on the training pitch, nothing can ease a striker's concerns more than finding the back of the net.

And so it exploded. The frustration. The doubts. It all blew up - infamously - for Fofana in the home game against Napoli in October. Union lost 0-1 on the night. But it was the Chelsea man who made the headlines. Fofana ignoring the offer of a handshake from coach Urs Fischer as he was substituted midway through the second-half. The actions stunned staff and teammates. As he sat on the bench, an animated Fofana was consoled and even hugged by fellow sub Rani Khedira. Team manager Oliver Ruhnert also attempted to calm the Ivorian. The club was stunned and immediately gagged all involved. Fofana would be suspended for a week, including from the club's training facilities.

In the aftermath, Fischer laid bare why Fofana's actions had rocked the team. Such blow-ups just don't happen at Union Berlin.

"These are unnecessary topics," Fischer stated days later to the press corp. "We'll give you headlines. We haven't done a bad job over the last five years. You didn't have much from us..."

But this was no Jadon Sancho moment for the club, nor the player. Fischer played it perfectly. As did Fofana and Chelsea. The striker quickly on the front foot making a public apology.

"I would like to apologise to the club, the coach, my teammates and the fans for my behavior during the substitution," Fofana would post on social media. "This gesture was not intentional and in no way represents my attitude. All of this arose out of frustration because I wanted to continue helping the team achieve a positive result."

For both parties, things didn't linger. And everyone was quick to move on.

"He is an alternative for the game on Saturday," Fischer stated as Fofana's suspension was ended early. "Especially against Napoli you saw what qualities the boy has. This can help us in the current situation."

And that's just it. For all Fofana's frustrations. For the team's struggles. The player is showing his potential. His quality. The goals haven't arrived, but Fofana has never hid. And he's never looked overwhelmed. Even at 20 years of age and leading the line for a Bundesliga club in the Champions League, Fofana hasn't looked out of his depth.

Fischer, of course, has since been moved on. His dismissal, as this column has learned, giving Fofana and his camp no great satisfaction. Indeed, on the player's side, all concerned appreciated Fischer's handling of his October meltdown.

No goals in the league. And with the team still in the dropzone. You could understand Union management cutting their losses and withdrawing their 20 year-old loanee from the frontline. But that hasn't happened. In Fofana, they see something. A potential. A talent worth persisting with. On paper, it can be argued this deal hasn't worked. But despite those disappointing numbers, Union's backing of Fofana only reinforces what Chelsea saw when bringing him across from Molde almost a year ago.

Yeah, he's raw. But the talent. The potential. Union's management can see it. David Datro Fofana, despite the goals frustration, is proving himself in this next step of his development.

Previously >>David Datro Fofana & Chelsea: Better than Haaland? Please Blues, don't mess this one up

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Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie


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