Who is Youssouf Fofana? The former pizza delivery boy starring for France at the World Cup in Qatar
Having only received full international honours in September 2022, it's been quite the rise to prominence for Fofana, who continues to excel on the world stage as France charge towards back-to-back World Cup crowns.
In a squad blessed with the flair of Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann, and the solidity of Raphael Varane and Dayot Upamecano, it's hard to see how anyone doubted France. But with the likes of Paul Pogba and N'Golo Kante - two men key in their 2018 triumph - absent from the midfield, it left quite the hole to fill.
Enter Fofana, who has stepped up for Didier Deschamps when it matters most and starts in the World Cup semi-final for Les Bleus against Morocco.
A World Cup means it's time for heroes, and while France haven't been without those, Fofana is still managing to force his way into the conversation as an unsung one. But to most who don't keep a close eye on French football from week to week, he's an unknown figure.
Fear not, as GOAL has rounded up everything you need to know about the breakout star.
Where was France midfielder Youssouf Fofana born?
Fofana was born in Paris to parents of Malian and Ivorian descent, and played football in his youth in the capital.
He continued to cut his teeth in the suburbs of Paris and played for various clubs within the city, including an amateur side, before his dreams were turned upside down in 2015.
Pogba and Mbappe, Saha and Matuidi, and even Kingsley Coman - Paris has a rich history when it comes to delivering some of the biggest stars in French football.
How old is Youssouf Fofana?
He was born on January 10 1999, making him 23 years old at the time of writing.
Who has Youssouf Fofana played for?
Growing up in Paris is a blessing and a curse for aspiring footballers.
The success of Paris Saint-Germain provides them all with a clear aim, but it isn't always as simple as that. Like many, Fofana had to look beyond the riches of Les Parisiens to find his feet in football. He turned out for Espérance Paris in his youth and spent a season as a teen with Red Star FC.
But, aged 15, Fofana was dropped from the France national academy in Clairefontaine and just like that, his dream of being a professional footballer looked in jeopardy. He spent time from 2014 to 2017 turning out for amateur club JA Drancy, remarkably working at a pizzeria to keep himself going.
Finally, he earned his break in February 2017, when Ligue 1 outfit Strasbourg took a chance on him and offered him a spot in their youth academy. Little over a year later, he would make his first-team debut; a Ligue 1 defeat to Lyon.
Fofana's form for Strasbourg tempted Monaco so snap him up for a fee of €15m in 2020. He's remained there ever since and has racked up over a century of appearances for the club.
Did Youssouf Fofana work as a pizza delivery driver?
While desperately trying to find a way back into the professional game, Fofana had to turn to a pizzeria in his two-year stint in football's amateur ranks, working as a delivery driver.
"That was the best way to earn money and also to follow my dreams," he said in a recent interview ahead of France's quarter-final win over England:
"I had my doubts (about making it as a pro), and you have to know how to move forward."
He credits the short but sweet experience, that lasted 'a few months', as a key part to his story that helps him stay grounded.
Considering the likes of Kante, Franck Ribery and even Dimitri Payet all had similar paths involving 'normal' work, he's not in bad company.
When was Youssouf Fofana's France debut?
After falling out of the academy setup in his teens, Fofana managed to work his way back into the fold and represented France at Under-19, Under-20 and Under-21 levels.
But the real milestone came in September 2022, when Didier Deschamps called on the midfielder for the first time. Fofana earned his first France cap in the Nations League, playing 90 minutes in a 2-0 victory over Austria.
He's been used mostly from the bench at the World Cup, but has featured in every game except the quarter-final thus far.
What is Youssouf Fofana's style of play?
A midfielder by trade, the 23-year-old is a combative and all-action presence who can score, but isn't a consistently prolific edge from the middle of the park.
Fofana does his best work in transitions; be it winning back the ball around the field or being involved in an effective press, he doesn't shy away from putting in the hard yards. Fofana stands at 6'1 and uses his physical attributes well to compliment his impressive pressing intelligence and screening.
Per FBRef, he's averaging 5.22 attempted progressive passes per 90 over the last 365 days and is always keen to advance play with line-splitting through balls or industrious carries, which are a big part of his game.