The party turned out to be a little short, but the joy was still very large. Glasgow Rangers were Scottish champions again after 2011.
With 55 championship titles, the club is the club with the most national championship titles in the world. By now it was the Rangers from Northern Ireland with Linfield. For arch-rival Celtic Glasgow, their dream of becoming champions for the tenth consecutive time was shattered.
The Rangers also could not do so. Leon Balogun, who played in Bundesliga for Breeder Bremen and Mainz 05, among others, looked forward to his first title in his debut season in Scotland. Their coach: England veteran Steven Gerrard.
The 32-year-old speaks for the first time since the coup, before the Europa League game between the Rangers and Slavia Prague (Europa League: Glasgow Rangers – Slavia Prague, Thursday 9pm in Lvator) Game 1 About the rivalry in Glasgow, Gerrard and his career.
Game 1: Mr. Balogun, what does it feel like to be a champion in your first year with the Rangers?
Leon Balogun: This happened in my first year, it is also not a priority. The good thing about this thing is that I am part of the team that has tried to stop another part of the city over the years and shine the Rangers logo. This never worked, and the big theme this season was to stop their “Ten in a Row” – that is, ten championships in a row – which neither team has yet been able to do. It is huge about history, especially in view of recent times. Sure, for me this is the first championship title of my career. But I have to let that sink first.
Game 1: Have you ever dreamed of becoming a champion in your first year?
Balogun: For the final six months of my contract with Brighton and Hove Albion, I played at Wigan Athletic. When my boys heard that I was going to join the Rangers, they said to me, ‘Incredibly quiet, you will do that!’ And I told Chi Dunkley (Now play Wednesday in Sheffield, d. Red.) ‘You will see that I will hold the trophy at the end of the season.’ The easiest thing was to dream about it. It was a different thing to put it into practice. This is incredibly good with the Rangers.
The word “Celtics” is not used in the mouth
Game 1: How do you see your career so far?
Balogun: For me personally, there were ups and downs and some difficult points and times when so-called experts thought I could no longer attack in a top league. Since then I have been a part of Darmstadt’s Miracle (Direct promotion to the Bundesliga, d. Red.), Celebrated direct entry into the Europa League with Mainz, played the World Cup with Nigeria in 2018, defeated ManOnited in my Premier League and played probably my best game at Anfield. I scored my first Premier League goal against Crystal Palace when I first hit the ball. With Brighton I also made it to the semi-finals of the FA Cup. And we won a bronze medal in the Africa Cup in 2019.
Game 1: Is winning the title an extra bonus for you?
Balogun: No. But another milestone, with which I have proved myself, but also to one or the other critic, which I am made of. There are other people in my team who have seen a lot of nonsense and have had to work with a lot of malice from the other side of the city. Hence the title has a lot of meaning for them. But it was a successful first year for me. (Smiles)
Game 1: Do you not keep Celtic in your mouth?
Balogun: No. I got used to it right away. I do not say the name of this other group, I always say those who are from the other side of the city or elsewhere. (Laughs)
“Leon, you ain’t seen nothing yet”
Game 1: You said that this title was special. Why?
Balogun: Because the rivalry between us and the club on the other side of the city is unbelievable. The tenth title that the club was aiming for was the big theme this season. with honesty? I still have no real idea of this rivalry as no fans are allowed to go there yet. I get an insight through social media or the last time before the day of the game, when we arrived at the stadium when the streets were full of fans and the police had to guide us. But still my colleagues said to me ‘Leon, you haven’t seen anything yet.’ I still don’t know how crazy our fans are, what it’s like to play in front of them.
Game 1: But you must have already noticed the rivalry between Rangers and Celtic.
Balogun: All the same. For the past nine years, the Rangers have only appeared in the face. Often the club was on the right track, but then you had to listen to this other club again: ‘It’s only here with us’ because you were weak on the home stretch back then. This malice and the fact that the face was repeatedly pushed into the mud was terrible for all bears. Forced to the 4th Division in 2012, the Rangers have poor financial instruments to date, and of course the rivalry pulled ground from under their feet. And much has been denied and, above all, crossed with the title that it makes this success more special. And it is wonderful to be a part of it.
Game 1: On your first day, a club officer showed you around the trophy room. How was that for you
Balogun: As my colleague, I told him that after this season there will be another trophy in the showcase. I was really convinced about this. Of course there was always something new, but Ibrox Stadium is still cult. There you see statues, old photographs, medals, pennies and think ‘Wow! If you become a master, you are a legend immediately! ‘. We really did make it – the 55th championship was craving for everyone. I also wanted to appear in the trophy room and now the time has come.
Gerrard has a “great future ahead of him”
Game 1: Do you feel like a legend?
Balogun: Not yet. He can still come. Proud there, but how do you feel as a legend? I wouldn’t say that about me either, but there is one thing I can say: I will accept it if I am seen as one. I am very happy when fans are allowed to return to the stadium after the epidemic and I finally get to know them really well. It is very extreme in Glasgow because you can feel love on one side of the road and sheer hate on the other side.
Game 1: Your trainer, Steven Gerrard, is a legend.
Balogun: Definitely a legend. You can just feel that he has internalized this winning mentality in a very blunt way. In training, when he sometimes plays, you see this unconditional will to perform and to win. And what he can do is for us to do. Of course, his resume helps. Everyone knows him. But he also has the necessary instinct and sympathy for what a player or team needs. He ideally knows how to maintain a balance between laxity and rigidity and prepare him to isolate a player at the right time. He and his coaching team are doing a really good job, which is why we are creating a stir in the Europa League with our performances. Our coach is a good guy and has a great future ahead of him.
Game 1: What was it like when Chhota Gogaran stood in front of the elder Gerrard for the first time?
Balogun: (Laughs) Our trainer is younger than me. There was little Gerard before the big balgun. I saw him on a zoom call before signing the contract. So I told him ‘before we talk about anything, I want to tell you that this is my personal moment when I come out as a small fan.’ It was incredible that Steven Gerrard appeared on my iPad. Had to laugh at him. When we met in person, it was a kind of acquaintance. He wrote before me, when I was still playing for Vigan. This helped me get into the habit quickly and play my first game with the team five days later.
“Return to Germany will be excellent”
Game 1: Why did you want Gerard?
Balogun: Because I fit very well into their system and the way I want to play. We play very possession-oriented and always want to protect the forward, be dominant and attack the opponent. He likes my aggression, dynamism and athleticism and of course I have a lot of experience, even internationally. And I am confident on the ball, which I am sure Sandro Schwarz (Former coach, d. Red.) to thank. Character traits that my Wigan trainer told him, he also reassured them.
Game 1: You have played in nine clubs since 2008. Are you just ready to travel or are you self-sufficient that you did not achieve success?
Balogun: I am certainly criticizing myself. Especially the first two years as a professional in Hannover 96, when I promoted with Türkiyemspor Berlin, were extremely difficult. I just haven’t been able to succeed there. I have not attended a classic academy, so I do not come from a classic talent factory in England or Hertha, where I played a year in my youth. In 96 I still had a lot to learn.
From there I moved to Bremen, signed with U23 there, but trained with professionals and was often on the team. I had my first success at Fortuna Düsseldorf. Unfortunately we charged again and the second year was not as great. I was promoted with Darmstadt 98 and things went well in Mainz in the first year and then mixed. I think it is fair to say that I have never established myself or I am established in a club at all. I am self-critical. But there are many players who are established, but never played in Europa League or World Cup, let alone become champions.
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Game 1: Are you not telling yourself a little too well?
Balogun: No. I am proud because I have left many obstacles behind and hard times. I have been viewed critically many times, but I have always learned something new. The championship title with the Rangers is no compensation for my time in Germany. If it is always easy, then you do not develop further. It was not an easy move from Mainz to the Premier League. There were sad moments in my career when I thought, ‘Hey, why don’t I play now?’ But maybe I need to recognize the player as I am today.
Game 1: Do you want to go back to Germany again?
Balogun: I was born in Berlin and it would have been outstanding if I had a chance at home or in Germany again. But with the Rangers we are initially watching the Champions League, which can jump out if we qualify successfully. Who wants to miss this? When I stop playing football, I will return to Germany. If that happens before then, I have no objection. But my immediate future is with Ranger.
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