Despite being linked to the likes of AC Milan, Barcelona and Manchester United while still a teenager, Angelo Fulgini instead chose the path of least resistance, but he by no means had fewer hurdles to overcome.
The Ivory Coast-born right-midfielder started life out as a full-back, making his debut for Valenciennes in their 2-0 defeat to Nimes in January 2015. He then became a regular option for Les Atheniens for the next couple of campaigns in defence until the end of the 2015/16 season, where injuries and suspensions in attacking positions in the squad forced the youngster further forward in the team.
He never looked back, scoring six goals and creating two assists in a solid campaign for himself, even though his team struggled to compete in the second division. That earned him a summer move to Angers, a team that are versed in turning Ligue 2 starlets into Ligue 1 starters.
The performance that surely caught the club’s attention was his six-minute hat-trick against Orleans. The first goal showed his pace, running the entire length of the field before selling two defenders for dead and giving the goalkeeper the eyes to slide it past him.
The second, his ingenuity, spotting the gap in the defence when cutting in from the right and having the composure to gently lift it over the goalkeeper. The final finish was possibly the best, showing his striking instinct as he cut across the centre-back to meet a cross with a first-time crisp finish beyond the keeper at his near post.
It was the smorgasbord of Fulgini’s attacking skill-set, displaying everything he could offer a Ligue 1 side. How could anyone not take a chance?
So far, the 21-year-old has settled well into life in France’s top division, scoring twice and notching two assists in 12 appearances this season. A regular when available, his versatility and ability to drive at opponents have helped make SCO an exciting side to watch again under Stéphane Moulin.
Fulgini has also progressed through the youth ranks at international level, having played in every age category, making his debut for the Under-21s in a friendly against Albania in June of this year. While he’s yet to make an appearance competitively, it’s a good sign that the winger is on the right track in terms of his recent development.
What has been most surprising about Fulgini’s development as an attacker is how dramatically his game has changed. You tend to see transformed full-backs be a little more cautious or too gung-ho but the Frenchman has been more akin to a Gareth Bale or a Cristiano Ronaldo, embracing the opportunities to attack the opposition and drift into the space in-field.
That’s evidenced where he usually ends attacking moves. He’s looking for space, willing to go behind the back line to create danger and move into the box to support his frontman when the ball is crossed from the other wing.
A number of goals he’s scored have come from that latter situation, where he’s arrived at the back post to gobble up any opportunities falling his way.
He’s confident with the ball at his feet, willing to attack the opposition with speed and trickery from anywhere in the attacking third. In fact, he’s played all across the midfield in his short Ligue 1 career, highlighting his flexibility and his usefulness to the Angers set-up.
The way he uses his body as well helps, highlighted by his signature move of putting himself between the player and the ball when it’s passed to him, allowing him to roll past the full-back with ease before running onto the through ball. It’s potentially a remnant of his days as a defender, using his solid frame as a shield and it’s helped him excel further up the field as well.
Having created two assists from set-pieces this season, it’s no surprise that Fulgini is also Angers’ go-to man for all free-kicks and corners. He produces a good delivery on a consistent basis, playing hanging balls in dangerous areas at corners and wide situations that are eagerly gobbled up by waiting attackers in the penalty box.
However, it’s a shame that some of his defensive abilities have been masked with his advance up into the attacking third of the pitch. He’s too easily beaten in one-on-one scenarios with a simple burst of speed, he can be too soft in the tackle and that really begins to hinder his full-back.
There’s a willingness to press, but it almost seems like it’s an obligation rather than a challenge. He often got a little too frustrated in Ligue 2, leading to red cards but that seems to have quietened for now with his new club.
Consistency is where he needs to focus most of his efforts as the 21-year-old can go missing in games. To his credit, he does try to get involved and it hasn’t been helped by Moulin playing him centrally, where it doesn’t highlight his greatest attributes.
Saying that, he needs to now prove that he deserves a starting wide position in every single game. There’s flashes of real potential and playing alongside a rising star like Karl Toko Ekambi will only help his growth but now it’s on him to force his manager’s hand to play him where he’s at his most effective.
Whether he quite has the quality, especially in a new position, to garner the attentions of top European sides again seems unlikely right now but he’ll feel content having not made the jump so early on. So many always feel it’s the destination that matters but Fulgini will attest that it’s really the journey that makes it all worthwhile.