William Troost-Ekong: Driving towards a Common Goal
There was something immediately striking besides William Troost-Ekong’s immaculately chiselled chin and impressive build. As he stepped into the room, hours before a Super Eagles match, there was a measure of refined oomph that followed him.
For footballers, there is always pressure, especially with a game closing-in. Pressure to keep a clean sheet, pressure to score a goal, pressure to deliver your best, to make your wife and 11-months-old son proud. It is remarkable the way Troost-Ekong deals with all the entropy. His propriety is infectious, while his dulcet accented speech reminds you of the seven years he spent in England from Hockeril College to his academy days at Tottenham Hotspur.
He picked up life lessons at Spurs, cleaned boots of senior players before he was told by a coach that he wasn’t good enough to play. It was upsetting for him as a 19-year-old. He returned to The Netherlands where he was born; found a club side willing to take him but struggled with the first team demands and the crushing pressure.
“That was quite difficult because I had to make this step into playing first-team football from Academy football and I think that was the hardest challenge,” Troost-Ekong explains.
The 25-year-old has now learned to cope with it through stints at Norway, Turkey, Italy and with the Nigeria National team after his time at the Spurs Academy alongside England’s Harry Kane.
“I think I’ve always had a good mindset. I think I’m looking at other players around me that are very talented. I never was really stand out talent. However, I managed to get myself here. So I think having the right mindset can bring you very far.
“It’s been a lot of ups and downs. I think everyone always has some speed bumps in the road. You experience these moments that were difficult and I think you do have some questions about yourself and how you’re doing and how well how good you actually are. But I think I always had this inner belief that I could do it. I think that’s the thing that’s driven me through.
Troost-Ekong describes himself as driven. An indubitable trait when you consider the progress he has made in his career. If the Udinese defender had a different mindset, he wouldn’t be playing in his second major international tournament for the Super Eagles. In 2015, Troost-Ekong was told by former Nigeria coach, Sunday Oliseh that he and his defensive partner Leon Balogun were too soft to play for Nigeria. He took the criticism on the chin and used it as fuel to power himself to this level.
Now it is silly to think Troost-Ekong is soft, he is an imposing hard-as-nails defender who relishes the physical battle with a striker. His passive-aggressive style of play and athleticism ensures he is hardly dominated by any opponent. Yet, he says he is easy-going and relaxed.
He struggles to find any player that inspires him as he has had to soak in a potpourri of footballing ideals. He has gone about it his own way, learning the ropes, chipping away the excesses, becoming a defender after his own pristine image.
“I don’t have one footballing inspiration. I don’t think I have anyone like that, I quite like to do my own thing and I like people that are free to do what they want to do. So I don’t think you need to follow in anyone’s footsteps. I think you have to really try and be you.”
Troost-Ekong works hard and trains even harder. His physical conditioning is almost preternatural, he has missed just two games for the Super Eagles since Gernot Rohr took charge of the team in August 2016. In the Italian Serie A, he put his body on the line last season, leading the league in the number of blocks per game.
“To have played so many games for club and country has been, I think also due to making sure I look after myself. I spend a lot of time with a personal trainer, and watch my diet. I try to rest well as much as I can. And I think I’ve also been quite lucky and blessed that I haven’t faced too many injury problems.
Troost-Ekong has grown to become one of the main voices in the Super Eagles dressing room, captained the team a few times and is playing at his first Africa Cup of Nations where he hopes they can do something special.
“I believe in the team. I believe in all the young guys. I think we’ve had some great experience now at the World Cup, for some of us that hadn’t played that big tournament before. I think we have a good balance. I don’t think we have any difficult characters. Everyone’s always happy. There’s a good spirit. and yeah like I said we have a lot of players that want to prove something.
“Going to AFCON to win it or have a good tournament would be life-changing. I think if you have that status where you can bring something home to the country, that would be amazing. I’ve experienced that in a small scale when we got a bronze medal at the Olympics. And just to see what kind of happiness we brought to Nigeria, that was so amazing. So I can’t imagine what it would be like if you win the AFCON.”
Winning the 2019 AFCON in Egypt would be surreal for most of the players but the chances are even slimmer after the Super Eagles finished second in their group. After sealing qualification for the second round with a game to spare, Nigeria surprisingly lost the final game to Madagascar with Troost-Ekong’s defensive partner, Leon Balogun culpable for one of the goals.
Both players share a good bond on the pitch. The relationship extends away from the field and even into their charity projects. Both players are signed to Juan Mata’s Common Goal, donating one per cent of their salaries to the charity to help transform the world.
“I did speak to Leon about it. It is a great initiative that I read about first. I think the first person I read about was Juan Mata who is was the first player to join for Manchester United. I really liked the idea and I thought something that could be a quite small thing for us, for we players to do, can impact so many lives so that’s why I decided to join Common Goal.”
Grab a copy of Guardian Life today for the full interview.