For a while, after William Troost-Ekong broke into the scene as a Super Eagles player, observers viewed his career with some conflicts. Blessed with a taut physical structure and dynamism, Troost-Ekong was still failing to convince at the top level.
He couldn’t make the grades at Tottenham and wasn’t good enough at FC Groningen and Gent. All through his stay at FC Groningen and Gent, he had to leave on loan to FC Dordrecht and Haugesund to get playing time.
It wasn’t until he joined Bursaspor in Turkey, that he managed to garner some needed momentum to his career. He wasn’t exceptional in Turkey but he managed some consistency.
After a strong showing at the 2018 FIFA World Cup with the Super Eagles, Troost-Ekong joined Serie A side Udinese, a move that finally matched his talent and potential. Even Udinese Technical Director Daniele Prade felt the move had come four years late.
He hasn’t disappointed since he moved to Italy where he has taken to the Serie A like a duck to water while navigating through the challenges of moving to a new country and being a new dad.
He made his league debut in a 2-2 away at Parma just after a training session with his new club but the game seemed too soon for him as he struggled alongside defensive partner Bram Nuytinck. But since that game however and with Udinese struggling with inconsistency in the Serie A, Troost-Ekong has consistently shown that the club did good business with his signing. With Troost-Ekong leading the defence, Udinese have conceded 35 goals this season. For context, Udinese in 15th place, are ninth on the table only on goals conceded and have let in fewer goals than Roma and Atalanta who are fifth and seventh respectively.
At a time this season, Troost-Ekong was averaging seven clearances per game - putting him in the top 10 in the Serie A.
Troost-Ekong is nowhere near the finished article but the Serie A has been the perfect league to shape the 25-year-old into a world beater.
“The league has been great for me for my first season and to come here and be important from the start and I feel like I have gotten a lot in the last months playing in Serie A in Italy,” the Super Eagles defender told Pulse Sports.
“We spent so much time working on the tactics and with so much attention to detail especially in the defensive side.”
The learning continued last week for Troost-Ekong when Udinese were beaten 4-1 away at Juventus. Despite Udinese’s heavy defeat and the defence under Troost-Ekong's watch letting in four goals, he didn’t leave the game with the loss of his face. He was solid on one-on-one situations, defended set pieces well and gave a good account of him in isolated moments.
But football remains a team sport and the very best in the game set themselves apart by how they improve their teammates even so a central defender by how he organises those around him.
“I think here they appreciate defending so much and it’s definitely one of the first things any coach looks at is how the defenders are playing and what the defence shape of the team is,” Ekong said.
“Especially my position as a central defender, having to organise the whole team and be a leader from the back.”
After the loss in Turin, Troost-Ekong and his Udinese teammates travel to Naples to face second-place Napoli on Sunday in what is expected to be another difficult game for The Black and Whites.
“The game against Napoli this weekend is going to be a tough one, we faced Juventus last week and it was a difficult game,” Troost-Ekong told Pulse Sports.
“Now we have the same again, we have to go away at Napoli. Napoli equally as good and have as much striking power as well. They have great movement and a team in form. It’s going to be a good test for us on Sunday, we going to go there to try and get a point and see what else is possible. But we have to go there and show some fighting spirit. It’s going to be a difficult one.”
Serie A has the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Mauro Icardi and some of the world’s best players, that is why they belong among the top five leagues in Europe. Playing at that level improves you as a player, that is why emphasis and more respect are given to players who play there. It is what had been lacking in Troost-Ekong’s career before his move to Udinese.
“You know when you play in this league, you are going to come up against teams with some much qualify. It’s all part of it and it’s a good test for me hopefully these are games that make me better. I’m going to enjoy it and see what we can get at the weekend (the game against Napoli).”
In re-echoing Prade’s sentiment, not competing at this level was what had hindered Troost-Ekong career in the past. This season so far, he has shown remarkable progress as a defender and a player.
“I feel like this year is the year that I’ve grown a lot,” he added.
“We still have about 12 games left until the end of the season. But I will be looking back at the season where I’ve made leaps and bounds especially on the back of the World Cup year. So I could n’t be happier to be in Italy and hopefully become a complete defender, the longer I stay here and play. I’m very grateful and looking forward to the future in Serie A.”
The game against Napoli is a tough trip for Udinese and it's another stern test in the Serie A for Troost-Ekong which will shape him into a world beater.