The Nigerian defender became a Scottish champion early this week after helping Rangers overtake former champions Celtic, but football could have ended for him seven years ago
Rangers title hero Leon Balogun says an injury he sustained on his Super Eagles debut could have marked the end of his playing career, and he’s pleased that his resilience pulled him through those dark times.
March 6, 2014, saw one of Balogun’s childhood dreams come true as he made his international debut under late Stephen Keshi in Nigeria’s 0-0 friendly draw against Mexico.
It didn’t end well for the defender, though, as he suffered a broken foot and had to be replaced by Azubuike Egwueke barely 20 minutes after he was introduced to the game in place of Efe Ambrose.
Matters got even worse for Balogun, whose two-year contract with Fortuna Dusseldorf was running out that June, as the German club decided not to renew the deal following his layoff due to injury.
Unemployed and barely in top physical condition, friends and family urged him to think about furthering his education and gunning for a career away from football.
But things turned around positively that summer for Balogun as freshly-promoted Darmstadt signed him before playing for Mainz and Brighton and Hove Albion in the English Premier League.
Balogun grew in influence with the Super Eagles at the international level, forming a solid central defensive partnership with William Troost-Ekong.
The 32-year-old was a key member of Nigeria’s squad to the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia and was part of the bronze-winning contingent at the 2019 Afcon championship in Egypt.
A few days ago, Balogun won the first league title of his career, and he says all these would not have been possible if he had thrown in the towel after his injury seven years ago.
“In 2014, I reached the point where I was unemployed after I broke my foot making my national team debut for Nigeria,” Balogun told the Scottish Sun.
“I returned to my club, and they said they were not going to extend my contract. After that, I had to see where the journey was going for me.
“My parents were worried about what I was going to do.
“We spoke about it, and they told me to think about doing an online course or a university degree on something away from football.
“But I just didn’t want to give up. I always believed something would come, and something did.
“Darmstadt turned round a playoff game to get promoted, and I ended up signing for them.
“After one year there, I moved to Mainz and played in the Europa League. I also played in the World Cup for Nigeria.”
Balogun’s year can get even better as Rangers are close to making it to the Europa League’s quarterfinals after claiming an away draw to Slavia Prague on Thursday.
Gernot Rohr has also called up the versatile defender for Nigeria’s Afcon-qualifying games against Benin and Lesotho later this month.