AFCON 2023: Should Rangers defender Leon Balogun be recalled to the national team?Published: December 05, 2023
The importance of defenders in a football team can be better understood by taking a closer look at the various roles they play.
In the modern day, defensive duties have gone beyond the traditional blocking and tackling routines, centre-backs can now control the tempo of a game using progressive passes and even perform some playmaking duties if need be.
It is fair to say that defensive duties have evolved over the years.
Nigeria's squad at the 1994 FIFA World Cup held in the USA popularly referred to as the 'golden generation' produced a whole calibre of fantastic defenders.
From centre backs like Uche Okechukwu and Michael Emenalo to full-backs like Ben Iroha and Austin Eguavoen, the defensive prowess of the Super Eagles at the time was absolutely nothing short of spectacular.
In the present day, the Super Eagles can boast of an array of defensive talent with players like Kenneth Omeruo, William Troost-Ekong, Kevin Akpoguma, Semi Ajayi, Ola Aina, Bruno Onyemaechi, Bright Osayi-Samuel, Tyronne Ebuehi, Chidozie Awaziem, Calvin Bassey, Olisa Ndah and Leon Balogun.
The current backline paraded by the three time African champions may probably be it's most prestigious defensive setup of all time but most times they do not play to the hype they are accorded with.
Ahead of next year's AFCON, only the best legs will be selected by head coach Jose Peseiro as the Super Eagles will look to end their decade long tournament winning drought.
Notably, Leon Balogun has been in fine form for Glasgow Rangers whom he rejoined in the summer of 2023 from Queens Park Rangers on a free transfer, with the former Darmstadt man appearing seven times for the Gers in all competitions this season.
According to Whoscored.com, the 35-year-old averages 71.2 passes per ninety minutes, as well as 4.6 long balls each game and has elite aerial ability accompanied with fantastic ball interception skills.
His versatility is unquestionable as he can also put in a shot at the right-back position if need be.
However, what is most notable about his game play is his calmness on the ball and his ability to operate on a high line and synergize with the attacking full-backs and midfielders using accurate long and short ground level passes, an attribute the current centre-back pairing of Calvin Bassey and Semi Ajayi lack.
Balogun's ability to make clean tackles and read runs from an incoming striker looking to gain entry into the eighteen-yard box to stage a one on one situation with the goalkeeper makes him stand out ahead of the current crop of centre-backs currently in the ranks of the 2019 AFCON bronze medalists.
Although, Balogun might not be as agile as the younger defenders currently in the team due to the factors that might have to do with his age, his wealth of experience is surely something that coach Jose Peseiro would want to capitalize on in his bid win the biennial tournament come next year as he has represented Nigeria at the 2018 FIFA World Cup as well as the the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations where he won a bronze medal with the Super Eagles.
In conclusion, Leon Balogun's defensive abilities are absolutely impeccable as he is clever, calm on the ball, a dominating figure in the air as well as an intelligent tackler.
His qualities might just tempt Portuguese tactician Jose Peseiro to integrate him into the squad for next year's AFCON as his attributes might prove to be the missing piece in the Super Eagles defence.
Therefore, a call up to the Nigerian national team ahead of the biennial tournament might not be far fetched.
The former Hannover man, who has 46 international caps for Nigeria, last represented the country in 2022 in an AFCON qualifying match against Sao Tome and Principe where he came on as a substitute in a 10-0 whitewashing of the Falcons and will definitely relish another opportunity to put on the green and white colours of the three time African kings yet again at next year's biennial tournament.
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