Football, like life, is not a straight path. It’s also filled with bumps and potholes. And smooth roads, is believed in some quarters, to make bad drivers.
William Troost-Ekong may be compelled to agree, that some bad roads were what he needed to become a better driver. It’s been such a journey of relentlessness, ambition and a stoic approach to life. Of failures and successes; of being declared unfit and being mocked. It doesn’t feel like the end yet, but the means is already feeling justified.
The London Ignition
Troost-Ekong began his youth career in Fulham, aged 15. Born in the Netherlands to mixed Nigerian and Dutch parents, he also played for Tottenham at the youth level.
When it was time to take the step up and get on the professional train, Troost-Ekong went back home. Eredivisie side, Groningen allowed him to begin his senior career but he never caught the eye. He was soon loaned to Dordrecht.
Belgian club Gent asked for his services, and he could only muster three league appearances in almost three years, albeit, amid a loan spell at Norwegian clubside, Haugesund. The light came from Norway, and it was the green light.
The Dark, Green Light
In 2015, Troost-Ekong got a callup to represent the Nigerian senior national team, the Super Eagles. He took it with both hands and featured impressively in the Super Eagles’ 2-0 2017 AFCON qualifier victory over Chad. That game featured three debutants with the other two being Anderson Esiti and Kingsley Madu. Only one of them is left in the fold and we know who it is.
One month after that victory, the man who gave Troost-Ekong his debut, late Stephen Keshi got dismissed as coach of the Super Eagles. He was replaced by Sunday Oliseh, the former fantastic defensive midfielder of the Super Eagles whose coaching career, many tipped for the stars at the time. He passed a comment that well stirred the Hornet’s nest, and that Hornet is what the defender is today.
…I am someone who does not back away from anyone. I am not the most skillful, but I know what I am good at. I think that’s part of coming from different countries, different cultures. It’s not nice when people try to use that against you. I identify myself as being Nigerian as well, and I feel at home in the team. Not once have I ever looked around and thought ‘this is not for me’. But it spurred me on. I have played against African strikers since then and no one has bullied me. I have proven my point.William Troost-Ekong
My partner at centre-back is half-German, half-Nigerian, so he is the same as me,
After a game, he [Oliseh] said we were too soft to play against African players. That upset me because one of my traits as a player is that I am someone who does not back away from anyone. I am not the most skillful, but I know what I am good at.
I think that’s part of coming from different countries, different cultures. It’s not nice when people try to use that against you. I identify myself as being Nigerian as well, and I feel at home in the team. Not once have I ever looked around and thought ‘this is not for me’. But it spurred me on. I have played against African strikers since then and no one has bullied me. I have proven my point.
The Bright, Green Light
In 2016, Troost-Ekong got an opportunity to represent Nigeria again and this time, under Samson Siasia at the 2016 Rio Olympics in Brazil.
He shone as the Dream Team won a Bronze Medal and that kick-started his gentle entrance into the Super Eagles. Regular callups came, as he got good playing time in Turkish club, Bursaspor. Together with Leon Balogun, the two “Oyibo boys” formed a defensive pairing now known as the “Oyibo Wall”.
The Olympics became the push and belief the defender needed to emerge and he has taken every opportunity that came with it. Not known for the skill of some top-class defenders in football, his willingness to put his body on the line and his desire for victory are obvious qualities that have stood him out.
The rejected stone of then is the deputy captain of the Super Eagles today.
The Masterstroke: Back Among The Best
The Pozzo family is one of the most popular names in European football. When Udinese asked for the services of Troost-Ekong, it was a step up and one in the right direction. It gave him the rare opportunity to play against some of the finest in the game and he improved greatly, as he’s shown in his game. When Watford, one of the trio of clubs owned by the Pozzos, with the third being Granada, came, it was the chance to prove himself worthy of being good enough for the biggest level. But the level wasn’t big.
Many Nigerians considered the move a downhill one as Watford played in the Championship, but the Hornets had managed to keep their core for the journey of getting back to the Premier League, and they did. Troost-Elong played a key role in their return and will relish playing against some of the best footballers in the world in the English top flight. It looked like a journey that had no end in sight, dark and thorny but the green light is finally here, in a yellow jersey, as a Hornet, in a Hornets’ nest.