Since the turn of the year, Leon Balogun had only played 210 minutes of competitive football; sidelined with an injury, left on the bench or simply out of Brighton’s PL games by Manager Chris Hughton.
He only minutes in 2019 had come in two FA Cup fixtures, both ending in victories for the Seagulls as they progressed through the competition.
Yet, if the limited game time was supposed to show the 29-year-old had lost pace or color as a defensive stalwart, it did not show as he put in a performance worth a man of the match award in Tuesday’s international friendly against Egypt.
Leon’s invitation by Eagles Head Coach, Gernot Rohr, expectedly drew criticisms given the CB’s lack of game time and the possibility of denying equally better players the chance to compete for places with the aging defender ahead of the Africa Cup of Nations.
He was even an unused substitute in the dead rubber, final group qualifying match of the 2019 AFCON against Seychelles; further frustration for all involved.
Somehow, it seemed the situation buoyed him and inspired a tenacious performance against Egypt in Asaba where Nigeria ended a 29-year winless record against the Pharaohs.
Three rugged but crucial tackles from the former Mainz 05 man, in the closing minutes of the game, ensured the home side held on to their 1-0 advantage.
At different stages of the game, he would show his ball playing abilities, making surging runs upfront, initiating attacking play in a high press and impressing on all who cared he still dominated in aerial battles inside the box.
Indeed, he is the Eagles’ best chance of fighting off attacks from the air, but on Tuesday in Asaba, the 29-year-old also showed immense commitment, he’ll put his body on the line for this team.
The Nations Cup in Egypt may be his last hoorah on the international scene with Nigeria, but if he reproduces performances like that when it matters he will certainly go down as a Legend in the folklore of Nigerian football.