Premier League side Brighton & Hove Albion’s new signing from Mainz 05, Leon Balogun is a defender who has shown perseverance all through his career. He has bounced back from adversity to play in one of the best leagues in the world and at the World Cup in June with Nigeria.
After the rush of completing the medicals and putting pen to paper at Brighton, Balogun spoke exclusively with aclsports.com at Heathrow Airport on his way to join his Super Eagles team mates for World Cup camp. “At the moment I am too stunned to be really excited” he says.
“I will be going to the World Cup and I have just signed to play in the Premier League. This summer is just unbelievable for me really. There is still time for me to settle down, calm down a little bit and take it all in. Two of my biggest dreams have become reality”.
On the 6th of March 2014, Balogun made his national team debut for Nigeria in a friendly against Mexico in the US. A few minutes after coming on he went up for a header, got nudged and dropped foot first into a pitch side advertising panel. He was later replaced. Scans revealed he had fractured his right foot.
The Berlin born defender missed out on the World Cup and his contract was not renewed by his then club, Fortuna Dusseldorf. Fine way to treat a player who had shown loyalty by going down to Bundesliga 2 with Dusseldorf following relegation and was wanted by many other Bundesliga sides at the time. “They were very good to me so I did not even contemplate leaving them following relegation then” Balogun said in an interview back in 2014.
That experience could have knocked many people but not Balogun “many people were surprised that I was so confident of getting a club and getting back to the highest level at the time. I have always been a positive person. I think positively in every situation so at that time I was confident good will still come my way”.
He joined Darmstadt winning promotion with them to the Bundesliga but he left them to join Mainz 05 at the start of the 2015/16 season. Next season he will be playing in the English Premier League. Family must be proud of his journey so far.
“Yes, they are proud in the same way they would have been proud if I had chosen to be an architect at my graduation from University. They are proud that all I have worked hard for and suffered for seem to be paying off. We are a close family”
Many have questioned his move to Brighton before the World Cup. Balogun, 29, is in no doubts about his decision.
“Brighton had shown interest in me for a while and I appreciate that. Also, I could go to the World Cup and get injured or have a very bad World Cup. Plus, did not want to be at the World Cup and be worrying about where I will play my football next season. Now, I can give the tournament the attention it deserves and when we finish, I shall return to Brighton and the Premier League.”
Balogun started as a right back but is most comfortable at centre-back and that is where he hopes to show his abilities to the Brighton fans.
“Everything about Brighton seems perfect for me. I have met some of the staff and it looks like a close knit club similar to where I am coming from (Mainz 05). So, my plan is to repay the confidence they have shown when the season starts”.
Brighton fans will have a bird’s eye view of their new signing when Nigeria come to Wembley to play England on June the 2nd in a pre-World Cup friendly.
On the passion of Brighton fans “playing for the Nigeria Super Eagles has me well prepared for this. Nigerian fans are one of the most passionate in the world so I can handle most things after. I like an expect passion from football fans, that is what motivates us on the pitch”.