Despite entering the professional game as a defender, Brighton & Hove Albion’s Leon Balogun revealed his former role in the attacking third of the pitch, and the Arsenal legend that caught his eye during his early years in Germany.
The 30-year-old, who joined the Seagulls from Mainz last summer, found the back of the net with a classy finish against Crystal Palace in December, and he highlighted the player that most inspired him while working his way into the game.
“If you’re a defender, of course you have your role-model defensive players, but Thierry Henry was the first player that I can remember who played with style.
“He showed class on the pitch, but almost arrogance. The way he was moving so elegantly over the field, strong and fast, he just had style in the way he was scoring goals.
“That was something that caught my eye. I loved the way he put the ball into the back of the net — and his celebrations were great as well. For me, he was just pure class.”
Another player that has Balogun’s full respect is Barcelona’s all-time leading goalscorer, a man he faced at last summer’s FIFA World Cup in Russia, when Nigeria were agonisingly knocked out in the group stages.
“Lionel Messi is a magician and the best player in the world. I shouldn’t need to explain why — watch him and you’ll know why. Put his name in YouTube and you will see.
“You can’t stop him alone, it takes teamwork. You have to anticipate what he’s going to do and not fall for his moves. But even if you anticipate, you have to be so quick because of his pace.
“There are situations where defenders have stopped him, but you can’t completely take him out of the game, it’s impossible. It’s the same with [Eden] Hazard — he gets the ball and decides what’s going to happen.
“In ten one-v-one situations, Messi is probably going to win at least eight of them. We’ve seen situations where he dribbles past five players in the space of maybe three or four square feet.
“We didn’t speak much about Messi before the Argentina game, because everyone knew what he was capable of doing. We just did everything we could to stop him once we got on the field.”