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Is Lack Of Pace Really a Big Deal ?

Leon Balogun

Going into the March 2018 friendly matches, his place as an established no-nonsense international defender is now undeniable however, questions remain in certain quarters about his status as a complete defender.

Leon Balogun's pivotal contributions in navigating Super Eagles of Nigeria's efforts to clinch the sole 2018 FIFA World Cup ticket in a group of lions, that contained past and present kings of African Cup of Nations, did not go unnoticed.

Particular mention should be made of the back to back games against Cameroun in September this year where his composure, discipline, timely tackles and focus helped to keep out the Indomitable Lions.

Yet, the penultimate World Cup qualifying match against Zambia on the 7th of October and the high profile friendly match against former World Champions Argentina on the 14th of November, both this year, exposed a major flaw in the 29 years old German-born player's game - which is his lack of pace.

This has led to some fan to start worrying that, perhaps, in the big games, against big teams with bags of pace, Balogun will be found wanting.

But, let's take a pause here to think; do world class defenders really rely on "their pace" in the big matches? Is pace all it really takes to be an accomplished defender?

To put in context, any football player in any position requires a set of CORE (must have ones) and then DESIRABLE (may or can have ones) set of skills to be considered competent or exceptional in his position.

In my view, core skills for any defender include: accurate timing of tackles; positioning; aerial prowess; neatness of tackles; ability to invoke cleaver clearance manoeuvres; moving with the ball from behind; anticipation; an intelligence.

In dozen plus three matches that Balogun has played for Nigeria, it is fair to say that he has exhibited these core skills

Desirable skills for defenders include: dribbling abilities (Efe Ambrose has this); highly comfortable with the ball; goal scoring propensity (particularly at set plays); speed; pace and exuberance.

Granted, total absence of desirable skills is a detriment to any defender, yet, they are not required to possess these skills in abundance to be quality at what they do.

What must be remembered is that Balogun's football skills were identified, nurtured, developed and honed in the German system, which, unlike the English system, pays less emphasis on pace/speed and more on movement, awareness and overall technical abilities.

Yes, he is not the quickest; yes some Michael Owen/Obafemi Martins type strikers out there lie in wait. However, what the defender lacks in pace, he more than makes up for in other aspects of his game.

And to faster-than-a-speeding-bullet type strikers out there, Balogun's technical prowess will see him through.

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