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Nigerian World Cup defender's epic journey from Bishop's Stortford to Russia

By Michael Vaughton

Will Troost-Ekong of Nigeria with Lionel Messi of Argentina
Will Troost-Ekong of Nigeria with Lionel Messi of Argentina

Nigerian World Cup defender Will Troost-Ekong was"destined to succeed at whatever he took onafter honing his skills as a teenager in Bishop's Stortford.

Hockerill Anglo-European College vice-principal Gareth Roberts with the framed memento of Troost-Ekongs 2016 Rio Olympics bronze medal-winning campaign hanging in the college cloister
Hockerill Anglo-European College vice-principal Gareth Roberts with the framed memento of Troost-Ekongs 2016 Rio Olympics bronze medal-winning campaign hanging in the college cloister

The 24-year-old centre-back made his international debut for the Super Eagles in 2015 before helping them win bronze at the Rio Olympics the following year, and he is now part of the squad at this summer's big tournament in Russia.

Troost-Ekong - who is scheduled to go head to head with Lionel Messi and Argentina tonight (Tuesday) in a battle to qualify from Group D for the knockout stage - developed as a person and as a footballer during his time at Hockerill Anglo-European College and Bishop's Stortford Community Football Club.

Troost-Ekong, who has a Nigerian father and a Dutch mother, left home to go to Hockerill at the age of 12 in September 2005, studying there until June 2010.

Having already represented Holland at under-10 level, he joined BSCFC as a striker and made an immediate impact by scoring a hat-trick in his first game.

Martin Slade was his manager at BSCFC, and he has fond memories of watching Troost-Ekong grow as a player as he ultimately moved on to Fulham and Tottenham - although he was actually talent-spotted by the Cottagers on a day he was merely filling in for an injured team-mate at centre-back away to Maldon Town.

"Will was a very skilful and extremely confident footballer and was liked by all of the players,said Slade."He excelled when participating in new training skills and enjoyed the quality of football on offer at Stortford, one of the biggest grassroot clubs in the country.

"Will played for five seasons and came on four international tours to his native country, Holland, and to Italy. Will's mother was very supportive and arranged one tour in Holland, driving to each game with refreshments for all the players in the boot of her car, with the help of Will's grandad.

"It amazed me that the town had such skilful young players like Will yet never gave them a chance to play at the main club. Stortford's loss was Fulham's and then Tottenham's gain, and the rest is history."

When it came to making the switch from Fulham to Spurs, and with his family back home in Holland, Hockerill vice-principal Gareth Roberts had a lot to do with the negotiations.

Troost-Ekong ultimately decided to take up their offer of an apprenticeship, before leaving White Hart Lane five years ago as a result of not being in the then manager Tim Sherwood's plans.

But the defender, who now plays his club football for Bursaspor in Turkey after stints in Holland, Belgium and Norway, has gone on to enjoy plenty of career highlights.

"Trevor Webb and John McDermott were primarily responsible for Will's development and education at Tottenham, and I remember going to see the Spurs youth team play Aston Villa,said Roberts.

"Spurs definitely played the better football and there was a young Harry Kane up front that day. Will appeared big and strong even amongst other promising boys.

"It was not an easy time for Will deciding whether to accept Spurs' offer of an apprenticeship. However, he eventually signed for them. He left Hockerill at the age of 16 and went to live and train in London.

"Since then his career has taken him to Holland, Norway, Turkey, the Olympics and now, of course, the World Cup in Russia. Truly Anglo-European!"

Troost-Ekong conceded a penalty as Nigeria lost their opening World Cup match 2-0 to Croatia, but he then helped his side keep a clean sheet as they bounced back to beat Iceland by the same scoreline.

And his performances on the big stage could tempt Premier League clubs to give him another opportunity to have a career in this country.

"I am not surprised by his achievements, just disappointed more local lads don't get the chance to progress within our professional leagues,said Slade.

"Will was destined to succeed at whatever he took on and it has been a joy to watch his progress in the Olympics and the World Cup."


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