Leon Balogun: Nigeria defender determined to earn starting spot at Brighton

By Oluwashina OkelejiFootball Writer, Nigeria
Nigeria and Brighton's Leon Balogun
Nigeria defender Leon Balogun is focused on getting regular first team football at Brighton ahead of this year's Nations Cup finals in Egypt.

Nigeria international Leon Balogun is determined to win a starting place at Brighton ahead of this year's Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt.

The defender, 30, has only made seven starts for the Premier League club since his arrival as a free agent from Germany in May 2018.

"It's been difficult but that's the manager's call, I've just got to get on with it and hope for a chance," says Balogun, who scored his only goal for the club in a 3-1 win over rivals Crystal Palace in December.

"I really hope to play a significant role in my first Nations Cup for Nigeria, but firstly I want to keep working hard to make a strong case for regular games at Brighton," Balogun told BBC Sport.

Leon Balogun (left)
Leon Balogun (left) scored just 25 seconds after coming on as a substitute for Brighton against Crystal Palace in December - the second quickest goal by a substitute in the Premier League this season after Daniel Sturridge (v West Ham - 24 seconds)

Since scoring his first goal for Brighton four months ago, Balogun has made only four more appearances for Chris Hughton's side in the league.

He also played twice in the club's impressive run to the FA Cup semi-finals including the tricky fourth round victory over West Bromwich Albion at The Hawthorns in February.

For a player who features regularly for his country and is highly revered by fans back home, Balogun admitted it has been a tough time waiting for his opportunity.

"It's very frustrating not to be involved but you can only keep your head up by focusing on helping the club when called upon," the former Mainz man told BBC Sport.

"What is important is to always put myself in the right place as usual. If I am needed anytime to start a game or come in, I'll be ready for that, it's all I can do."

Back in December he became the first African player in the English Premier League to join the Common Goal campaign by pledging 1% of his wages to charity.

Born in Germany, Balogun, who has previously played for Hannover, Werder Bremen, Fortuna Düsseldorf and Darmstadt 98, has made 27 appearances for Nigeria.

He played all three matches at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

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