William Troost-Ekong has come a long way from a Sunday Oliseh reject to a Super Eagles regular.
In 2015 then Super Eagles coach Stephen Keshi was looking for a new central defence pair for the senior national team.
He had been successful with Kenneth Omeruo and Godfrey Oboabona, winning the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) with the two young defenders and an impressive 2014 FIFA World Cup where the Super Eagles reached the second round.
But the skewed careers of Omeruo and Oboabona gave the late Keshi a new worry.
He had handed a debut to a certain Leon Balogun, a German-born player in March 2014 and ahead of a new AFCON qualifying campaign in June 2015, Keshi invited another European-born defender, William Troost-Ekong.
Troost-Ekong made his Super Eagles debut in the opening game of qualifying for the AFCON 2017 and impressed in a home 2-0 win over Chad.
That was the start of a defensive partnership that has become the bedrock of the new Super Eagles.
That was, however, Keshi’s last game for the Super Eagles as he was sacked a month later.
Sunday Oliseh was appointed Super Eagles coach and in his first game in September 2015, Troost-Ekong paired with Omeruo in central defence. Balogun missed the game because of an injury.
The Dutch-born defender impressed again in the goalless draw but was dropped for the next game, a friendly game against the Republic of Niger which Nigeria won 2-0.
In Oliseh’s next game, he paired Troot-Ekong and Balogun again as the Super Eagles of Nigeria were beaten 2-0 in a friendly game by the Democratic Republic of Congo in October 2015.
Troost-Ekong was dropped for the next game a few days later, a 3-0 win over Cameroon in a friendly game.
The defender was not called up for the next games against Swaziland and that was where he nearly lost his Super Eagles place.
In a recent interview, the 24-year-old revealed that Oliseh deemed him too soft to play for the Super Eagles.
“I was part of the Super Eagles until Sunday Oliseh took me out because he said Oyibo boys are too soft,” the Bursaspor defender told aclsports.com in an interview.
“No ill feelings, I saw him at the Olympics last year and we spoke briefly. He didn’t believe in me then but I think Nigerians can see now what I can do.”
Troost-Ekong was speaking after he helped the Super Eagles to seal qualification to the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
In the qualifying series, Troost-Ekong have played all five games so far for the Super Eagles and has since formed the now heralded central-partnership with Balogun which is fondly called ‘Oyinbo Wall’.
So how did he force his way back into the Super Eagles
He missed out on Nigeria’s March 2016 doubleheader against Egypt in the AFCON 2017 qualifiers under interim coach Samson Siasia but returned for the friendly games against Mali and Luxembourg in May, June.
He started in the 1-0 win over Mali and in the 3-1 win over Luxembourg a few days later.
But it was a trip to Rio with Nigeria’s U-23 side for the football event of the Summer Olympics that got Troost-Ekong’s international career on the right path.
The defender played all the games as the Dream Team went all the way to win the bronze medal, Nigeria's only medal at the at the 2016 Olympic Games.
“The Olympics was like a restart for my international career,” Troost-Ekong told aclsports.com.
With the Dream Team in Rio, Troost-Ekong became one of the leaders in the group, an attribute that has helped him hold down a place in the Super Eagles.
His club career also got stable, leaving parents clubs FC Groningen and Gent for loan stints at FC Dordrecht and Haugesund.
These days, the former Tottenham Youth player is at Turkish side Bursaspor where he plays regularly.
The stable presence of Gernot Rohr as Super Eagles coach since August 2015 has also helped.
It was him and Balogun in the defence for Rohr’s first game in charge of the Super Eagles, a 1-0 win over Tanzania in September 2016.
Since that game, the defender has started all of Super Eagles games under Gernot Rohr. At the age of 24, Troost-Ekong still has a long way to go with the Super Eagles and will surely get the opportunity to make more history with the national team.