AFCON 2021 Qualifiers: What Next For Leon Balogun


When the infamous “Oyinbo wall” pairing of Leon Balogun and William Troost Ekong played together for the first time, they were the best thing to come from Nigeria since Agege Bread was discovered, according to fans.

However, three years since they become the first choice pairing in the heart of Nigeria’s defence, “Oyinbo Wall” looks like history, and that shows how things turn around fast in football.

The last time Leon Balogun and William Ekong played a game together was in the loss to Madagascar at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt.

Coincidentally, it was the match that proved to be the end of the “famous pairing”, after the flaws of one of the members, Leon Balogun, was exposed.

In the clash against, Balogun was at fault for the Malagasy’s first goal after failing to react quickly to a back pass from John Ogu. While some will say it was that moment the 31-year-old lost his place in the Super Eagles squad, it has been coming since he decided to join Brighton Hove Albion in the English Premier League.

The Nigeria international joined the Seagulls in 2018 but has had limited game time since he made the move. This season, Balogun has made just one appearance for Grahm Potter’s side and that was in the less fancied Carabao Cup.

He has only been included in a Brighton’s Premier League matchday squad just twice this season. Last season, he made a total of 10 appearances for the team in all campaign.

Since he moved to the Amex stadium, Balogun has played just 891 minutes of football and that’s not a good thing. The former Mainz defender has not been given enough game time at the South Coast because Brighton have one of the best centre back pairings in the English topflight.

It would have taken an exceptional player to break the partnership of Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy which leads to the question of whether Balogun made the right decision in joining the Seagulls.

The German-born player’s situation got worse this season when Brighton splashed out cash on Bristol’s Adam Webster. The 31-year-old is behind the former Bristol player in the pecking order and that’s cost him his place in the National team.

While many felt he should have lost his place in the Super Eagles squad for some time now, he was still selected in the 23-man squad for the Nations Cup, while he was also included in the squad that faced Ukraine in September.

However, with a lot of players playing regularly for their club and also capable of doing a better job than Balogun, the former Mainz defender has lost his place in Rohr’s team.

Kenneth Omeruo and Ekong are now Rohr’s first-choice centre back pairing, while Chidozie Awaziem is now ahead of Balogun in the pecking order.

Balogun’s situation is so dire that Semi Ajayi who is not a centre back naturally is now ahead of him. The former Rotherdam player who was surprisingly left out of the squad that went to Egypt is now a regular in Rohr’s squad since he joined West Brom last summer.

The 25-year-old plays as a defensive midfielder naturally but can also play as a centre back. With that in mind, Super Eagles manager, Gernot Rohr now selects him ahead of Balogun.

How Can He Turn His Situation Around?

The major thing is for him to start playing regularly, but that cannot happen at Brighton, so he will have to leave either on loan or permanently when the January transfer window opens.

However, it may be difficult for him to get a club in the English topflight, so he may have to go a level below by finding a club in the championship who needs a centre-back.

There’s the option of moving to the less competitive leagues like Belgium or Holland, while a move back to Germany could be a good thing for him.

Although he is 31-years-old, he still has a few years left in him as defenders advanced with their age. But his next move must be to a club where he will get regular playing time because that’s how he could win his place back in the national team.

It will be far-fetched to say his Super Eagles career given his rivals for the centre back spot do not play for top clubs. All it will take is for him to have a regular run of game time and also give decent performances, then he will be well placed to earn his spot back in the Super Eagles.

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