Nigeria defender William Troost-Ekong says that criticisms from former Super Eagles coach Sunday Oliseh shaped his quest to excel at the international level.
Troost-Ekong, 25, who scored his first international goal for Nigeria in Monday’s pre-World Cup friendly against Democratic Republic of Congo gained recognition after impressing with the country’s U-23 team that won bronze in the football event of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
The centre-back and his central defence partner, Leon Balogun were impressive for the Super Eagles in the qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
Now a key member of the Super Eagles team, the Bursaspor of Turkey defender’s journey to international stardom has however not been a rosy one.
“My partner at centre-back (new Brighton signing Leon Balogun) is half-German, half-Nigerian, so he is the same as me,” Troost-Ekong stated in an interview with Telegraph.
“After a game, he (Sunday 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 skilful, but I know what I am good at.
“I think that’s part of being 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.”
Troost-Ekong played for the Netherlands at junior levels but made his debut for the Super Eagles in 2015 after an impressive season on loan at Dutch side FC Dordrecht.
The duo of Victor Moses and Alex Iwobi could have played for England, but they chose to represent Nigeria instead and the rugged defender reckons that it is important for players to go where they are appreciated.
“You have to go where you are loved, where you are appreciated,” he insisted.
“It is more appealing for younger players. It is opening doors for foreign-born Nigerians, and I think there are going to be more to follow. Nigeria is a giant of African football.”
The Super Eagles will come up against England in a friendly game at the Wembley Stadium on Saturday which provides an opportunity for a reunion with Harry Kane, his former teammate at Tottenham Hotspur who once helped him fill out his registration form when he was a fresh-faced scholar at the club.
“He was one of the first guys that sat me down and helped me,” Troost-Ekong said of Kane.
“It’s amazing to see how well he has done.”
He recalls how left Tottenham Hotspur for Dutch club in 2013 following the appointment of Tim Sherwood as manager
“Me and Tim did not have the best rapport,” he stated.
“He did not really believe in me as a player.”
Troost-Ekong believes he has an unfinished business in the English Premier League and hopes to be back someday.
“I’ve taken a different route,” he added
“But if I can get to the Premier League, I will feel like I have achieved a lot.”