For the first time since the appointment of Gernot Rohr in August 2016, German-born Nigerian defender and second half of Oyinbo Wall, Leon Balogun failed to make the original squad for a competitive Nigerian game despite being fit.
Born in Berlin to a Nigerian father and German mother, Balogun made his Super Eagles debut in 2014 appearing in a pre-World Cup friendly against Mexico in the United States for just 20 minutes, before picking up an injury.
He missed the World Cup party that year in Brazil and had to wait a year to make his second Super Eagles appearance against Chad in an African Cup Of Nations qualifying tie. By this time William Troost-Ekong was part of the Nigerian set-up and both men have been at the heart of the Super Eagles defence playing together including starting all three of the West African nation’s games at the World Cup in 2018 as Nigeria exited in the group stage.
Things, however, took a different turn in the summer of 2019, as despite being a regular and one of the first names in a Super Eagles matchday squad since his debut under Stephen Keshi, then Samson Siasia and Sunday Oliseh and most recently Gernot Rohr, Balogun started just two of Nigeria’s seven games at the Nations Cup in Egypt.
His second start in the tournament coincided with Nigeria’s only group stage loss to Madagascar and he was at the centre of a defensive blunder which led to the three-time African champions conceding the first goal to their Southern African opponents; a goal the Super Eagles failed to recover from en route a 2-0 loss.
He was then relegated to playing just a handful of minutes in games where Nigeria were trying to preserve the lead. Once coming on in the 89th minute against South Africa in the quarterfinal as Rohr looked to secure a win by switching to a back three of Balogun, Troost-Ekong, and Omeruo.
Fast forward to a few months after the AFCON, and Balogun once a firm favourite of Rohr with whom he shares a common German heritage has now failed to make two successive Super Eagles squads since getting a call-up to Rohr’s 23-man squad for the friendly against Ukraine in September.
He was omitted for the friendly against Brazil in October and has failed to taste a single minute of action as the German tactician has preferred an Ekong-Semi Ajayi partnership with Kenneth Omeruo out injured recently.
The question now is, where did it go wrong for Balogun who has been capped 32 times by Nigeria? His lack of game time at his club has to be the chief reason why Rohr has ditched his Oyinbo Wall and completely collapsed it in recent months with the exclusion of Balogun from his most recent squad to face Benin and Lesotho in Africa Cup of Nations 2021 qualifiers later this month.
In the summer of 2018, the free agent moved outside Germany for the first time in his career in what was supposed to be his last big move as he was already approaching his 30’s. Brighton afforded him the opportunity to feature in the most-watched league in the world, a move which now appears a disaster – with the benefit of hindsight – for the former Mainz and Darmstadt 98 defender.
Balogun made only 8 Premier League appearance for the Sussex club in the 2018/19 season with only 5 of those as a starter. He has failed to break the established central defensive partnership of Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy and his last premier league appearance came on the 26th of December 2018, in a 1-1 draw against Unai Emery’s Arsenal.
Eleven months after his last Premier League game for Brighton & Hove Albion, the 6ft 2in defender has made just three appearances the English side; twice in the FA Cup last season and once in the EFL Cup this season meaning he has only played 270 minutes of competitive football for his club in 11 months.
The four central defensive options available for Gernot Rohr are William Troost-Ekong (26) who often has been partnered by either Kenneth Omeruo (26) or Semi Ajayi (25) with Chidozie Awaziem (22) in the mix even though the latter has filled the right-back role in recent Super Eagles’ games due to Abdullahi Shehu’s struggles with injury.
These four possible candidates are a lot younger than Balogun and with Rohr looking at building a squad to shock the world in Qatar 2022 (a tournament which will take place when Balogun is already 34), it looks like the younger defenders have an upper hand in this race.
The 2019/20 season is still relatively young, we wait to see if Balogun will push for a regular spot in the heart of Brighton’s defence thereby pushing to return to the main fold as a Super Eagle and forcing the Nigerian manager to reinstate the Oyinbo wall.
But with a quarter of the season gone and only 90 minutes of action under his belt, everything seems to the pointing to the beginning of the end of Leon Aderemi Balogun’s career as a Nigerian international after 32 caps.