Nigeria defender Leon Balogun bristles, in jocular indignation, when the subject of his perceived lack of pace is broached. He considers it a personal affront, and he quickly rises to his own defence.
“I need to correct that,” he tells ESPN, just a few weeks out from the Africa Cup of Nations. “I think people are doing me wrong. It is just the way I run so people think I am slower.
“But I am unfortunate that I play alongside guys like Ahmed Musa, who are really fast. You cannot believe how fast these guys are. So when people see me, they compare me to these guys and they say I am slow.”
Conceding that he will lose over short distances, Balogun insists he will keep pace over longer distances.
“Over a short distance, they will probably kill me; my pace is not the first few metres, necessarily. But over a longer distance, I can catch up with them.”
Balogun noted as evidence of his speed that he “kept pace with one of their quickest players” – namely Anthony Martial — in Brighton & Hove Albion’s home game against Manchester United last August, when he made his English Premier League debut off the bench as an injury replacement for Shane Duffy.
Leon Balogun made his English Premier League debut for Brighton & Hove Albion vs. Manchester United at the American Express Community Stadium, when the Seagulls recorded a 3-2 victory.
He continues to make his point: “[Nigeria] is blessed with some quick players, seriously. Next time you want to compare me, just look at the guys I am playing with. I am above average fast. I just need to correct that.”
And with that out of the way, Balogun settles down to deal with the issue of Nigeria’s chances at the Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt.
“I think that what we are working towards is to be Africa’s No. 1 again,” he says with an air of thoughtful seriousness.
“It’s a great chance at the Afcon to be Africa’s No. 1, but it is nothing you can take for granted.
“We have to work for it, and we have to prove it each and every game over and over again. You saw our last game against Seychelles. It was not easy.”
Nigeria won 3-1 at home in Asaba, as overwhelming favourites, but the result was not secure until Moses Simon scored in the 90th minute.
“The allegedly small teams, they have become bigger and bigger, and stronger and stronger. So it’s always a test.”