Le50 2016: Angelo Fulgini – Valenciennes FC
As first matches as a professional go, it wasn’t a bad start. Making his first Valenciennes appearance since signing his first contract in the summer, it took Angelo Fulgini four minutes to score his club’s – and Ligue 2’s – first goal of the season, in VAFC’s 1-0 win at Niort.
It was no surprise that Fulgini seemed in a hurry to make his mark: his progress through the youth ranks had attracted so much attention that he was arguably already a better-known name than many of his more experienced team-mates.
Born in Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s capital, but brought up in the south of France, Fulgini and his family moved up north, before he joined Valenciennes’ well-respected youth academy at the age of 11. As he progressed, his name spread as a talented prospect, a fact reflected in his selection for the France under-17, -18 and -19 squads, all ahead of schedule. Unsurprisingly, Europe’s big guns began circling for the talented right back before Fulgini had even made a first-team appearance, with Liverpool, Manchester United, AC Milan and Barcelona all making enquiries.
That first appearance was not long in coming, as Valenciennes coach Bernard Casoni named Fulgini as a starter for his struggling Ligue 2 side against Nimes in January 2015. Casoni was sacked a month later, replaced by the club’s under-19 coach David Le Frapper. Having already worked closely with Fulgini, it was no surprise that Le Frapper quickly integrated his star man into the first team, and Fulgini made 16 appearances for the club in the second half of the season, starting all but two of them and helping to shore up the defence as the team lost only two of their last 13, eventually avoiding the drop by two points.
In that first half-season, Fulgini marked himself out as a right back of great potential. Tall and athletic, he was strong in the tackle and in the air, while also showing an impressive sense of anticipation for one so young. A prerequisite for all modern full backs, he also showed enthusiasm to support his team’s attack, using his speed and ability on the ball to push forward and add numbers in the attacking half.
His stock rose further in the summer of 2015, as he starred for France under-19s in their run to the semi-finals of the European Championships. Fulgini’s courters made more of a play for him but, unlike fellow Valenciennes youth alumni Dayot Upamecano and Lucas Tousart, he opted to stay with Le Frapper, signing professional terms at the end of July. The season-opening Niort goal followed two days later and, not long after, Fulgini made the step-up internationally too, making his first France under-20 appearance.
It all looked set for Fulgini to continue his seamless progression this season, but not everything has gone entirely to plan. He has remained an integral part of the first team squad, featuring in 25 of 34 Ligue 2 matches to date. However, as first Le Frapper, then his replacement Faruk Hadzibegic, have looked to change things up in an attempt to combat Valenciennes’ struggles, Fulgini has become a victim of his versatility. He has only started two matches all term in his preferred right back role, more often played in defensive midfield and even at right wing. The lack of stability has stunted his footballing growth somewhat and under Hadzibegic’s 2016 tenure he has completed a full 90 minutes only twice.
Fulgini’s footballing ability means that he has done a sterling job wherever he has played, but the disruption has prevented him from reaching his full potential and his frustration has even got the better of him on one occasion, as he received his marching orders against Brest in March, leading to a defeat which the club could ill afford (they currently sit only four points above the relegation zone).
This is not the first time Fulgini has needed to overcome a hurdle – he has previously spoken of his struggle to find a club, saying: “as a child I dreamed of becoming a professional but I was too small to be accepted in any development centres”. He overcame that struggle to fulfil his dream. Now he needs to be allowed to progress in one position, and to have the chance to dream bigger.