FC Mainz 05 of Germany defender, Leon Adeyemi Balogun is taking stock of what he calls an exciting, though tipsy-turvey season he has witnessed with his German Bundesliga club. In this exclusive interview with thenff.com’s AYO OLU IBIDAPO, the former Fortuna Dusseldorf and Darmstadt star opens up on his partnership in defence with William Ekong, the Eagles’ camping in London and of course, Super Eagles’ upcoming AFCON and World Cup qualifying matches. EXCERPTS:
Q: How would you describe your season with FC Mainz 05?
Balogun: This season for the club has been exciting, though there has been a lot of ups and downs but we are fighting to survive and escape relegation. I think from the last games we’ve played like those we played against Hertha (Berlin) and Bayern (Munich), we did our best and had fair results – a win against Hertha, and a draw against Bayern at the Allianz Arena. Playing in three different competitions really affected us: That is the Europa League, DFB Pokal and the League.
I think we’ve managed through and we will did well to escape relegation. For me personally, the season could have been better. I would have loved to play more games but also you can see positive trend in the last games. I know its all about the team and if that means that I don’t get too many games I certainly understand that, the main thing is for the team to stay in the Bundesliga.
Q: Now to the Super Eagles, the team had a nice time in London in March. The next time the team will gather will be in France ahead of the game against South Africa. What are your thoughts about the camping in London and the game against South Africa?
Balogun: The camping in the UK was very nice. I think we have a lot of players playing in Europe and it was good we were able to use the time to bond; it really would help as we continue to blend. There wasn’t too much stress for us, as it was near by and everyone could quickly assemble. Ahead of South Africa game, if we remain focused we have quality young players to beat any team in Africa.
Q: Let’s talk about your partnership with Ekong, what do you think of it? And the camping in France, you think it is a nice idea?
Balogun: William is my brother and both of us have played a couple of games together and we have formed a good partnership on the field of play. Off the pitch, we are friends and that is having very positive impact on our game when we play together in the back-line for the Super Eagles. We know each other and we know what the other is thinking, that has helped our game a lot. On the choice of the training camp in France, it is a beautiful idea by the NFF as it will be good to be together for 8-9 days before we leave for Uyo.
Q: South Africa are our next opponents, but at the moment, they don’t have a coach, what do you think?
Balogun: The thing is a coach guides a team, gives them idea on how to play and also presents a team that will play so it doesn’t matter whether they have a coach or not, it’s the players on the pitch that matters. They are the ones who will perform and show their quality on the field. Perhaps before we play them, they would have hired a coach who will still give them idea on how to play us so I think it will be an interesting game. I played against South Africa once before; I know they have quality players and it will be tough game. I expect a hard game against South Africa.
Q: Finally, two questions in one, what do you think about the game against Cameroon (it comes after South Africa) and then, what’s your take about the Godswill Akpabio Stadium in Uyo, where we’ve been playing our matches recently?
Balogun: About Cameroon, it’s a crucial game and a home game we must win. At home we have everything under our control, we must use that to our advantage. Another advantage is Uyo, our current home ground. Uyo has become a fortress for us. I think it is one of the reasons for our successes in recent times. Uyo fans have shown so much love for the team and that has been very great. The ground is great and the training pitch is also good. And the Akwa Ibom State government has been very supportive of our cause.
Cameroon is a strong team, after winning AFCON 2017 they’ve built up their confidence but by the time we will play them it would be six months after their win in Gabon, we must show them we want the win more than they do. We need to make sure we get the maximum three points to take our points’ tally to 9; that will give us a big edge over other teams including Cameroon. I’m seriously looking forward to the game; we want to show them that we are better than them. We are already dreaming of Russia 2018, but we know we must work harder. We will ensure we win all our matches especially our home games.
Q: Thank you very much for your time, Leon. It’s a pleasure talking to you.
Balogun: Thanks Ayo.