Leon Balogun: What can Premier League fans expect from Nigeria star?

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Leon Balogun
The defender will debut in the Premier League next season for Brighton, but what can the English top flight expect?

Leon Balogun's inclusion in Nigeria's 23-man World Cup squad was as rewarding as it was a relief for the 29-year-old. 

Ahead of the 2014 finals in Brazil, German-born Balogun was amongst the Super Eagles' preliminary group selected to travel to the tournament before an injury picked up against Mexico saw him cut from the final squad.

Having represented Nigeria on only a handful of occasions at the time, the realisation of what had been stripped away from the defender wasn't fully appreciated until some months later.

For Balogun to have received international recognition at all, though, speaks of the defender's perseverance.

"I wasn’t making the first team," Balogun remembers of his time in junior football. "It was tough because I was crying at home and some players in my team were making fun of me.

"There was a time when I felt quite alone but from somewhere there was this strength and this voice that told me, just go, and keep pushing through it. I never could explain to myself where this strength came from and this was the time I found my way to God."

If Balogun's faith validates his unrelenting persistence to play amongst the best in the game then signing for Brighton ahead of the 2018-19 Premier League season is a fitting reward.

Born in Berlin, Balogun began his career with local side Hertha BSC and then Zehlendorf, crafting his game in the sixth division of the German pyramid before joining Turkiyemspor in the fifth.

A transfer to Hannover handed Balogun a route into the Bundesliga, though he was signed primarily for the club's second team and it wasn't until his switch to Fortuna Dusseldorf in 2012 in which he established himself as a regular top-tier player.

Relegation and continuous injury concerns would eventually see his contract terminated, though Balogun would finally find relative stability in the Bundesliga at Mainz following a season with Darmstadt. 

Leon Balogun of Mainz

Flitting between right-back and his favoured central position, Balogun's performances for Mainz over his three-year stay led to widespread interest from European clubs, with Brighton the most attractive proposition for the defender.

“I always had a dream to play in the Premier League, and Brighton was one of the first teams to show an interest in me," Balogun told club website upon his arrival. “I’ve been following English football as much as I can in Germany, and I saw how they got promoted from the Championship."

Balogun's arrival comes as Brighton look to further tighten an already-stingy defence and eradicate the errors which saw them concede the highest number of goals from set-pieces in the division last term.

Having the joint-best defensive record in the Championship the season prior, Hughton's men then conceded the fewest goals in the bottom-half of the Premier League. 

And the transition between Bundesliga and Premier League ought to be a swift one for Balogun, such is his ability to read a game. 

A defender who often plays off instinct, Balogun has a curious trait of eliminating dangerous situations before they fully arise, pre-positioning himself in areas in which forwards look to attack and aggressively pressing his opponents.

And while his approach brings vulnerability, Balogun's composure sees individual contests often result in his favour.

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Continuity has played a large part in Hughton's success on the south coast and as long as he is able to, Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy are likely to be the manager's chosen pairing at centre-back for the upcoming league campaign. Balogun's experience, and indeed his battled disposition, makes his signing an astute one by the club, though, especially with Connor Goldson's move to Rangers and Uwe Hunemeier's return to Paderborn. 

Balogun's steady ascent to the top is synonymous with his new club; both are used to fighting from unfavourable positions and have taken the unspectacular path to the top.

Together, they will be confident of victory in their battle to retain their Premier League status past next season.