Story by Oma Akatugba and Chris Oguguo

It is not often you hear footballers talk about God speaking to them. Of course, so many of them have their religious beliefs and often show it on the pitch. For example, you see some Muslim players bowing their heads to the ground after scoring a goal, while some Christian players often do the sign of the cross before, during and after games. In all, it shows a reverence to God.

But what you hardly hear, or see, as the case may be, is players talking of being spoken to by God, especially when it comes to European footballers or players born in Europe. Surely, you will hear a lot of African and South American players talk about God. But how often do you hear that from a player with European roots?

This is the case of Leon Balogun of Nigeria and Mainz 05 in Germany.

Although born to a Nigerian father, the 29-year old was born and raised in Berlin to a German mother, and understandably grew up with German and western ideals. And understandably, he says he never believed in God, despite attending a catholic primary school.

“I was in a catholic primary school and back then, I did not believe in God because it was very strict with the nuns in the classroom,” he tells OmaSports.

“And I was always like ‘who is this penguin’? and I even always made fun of Jesus. But I did not understand. Back then, it was just too much because I think if you believe and have a deep relationship with your God, there must be something you have to have witnessed. You need to find your own way, not the way somebody tells you to go.

“I didn’t believe you had to tell me that ‘Jesus said this or Jesus said that, or that God did this or God did that’, you must experience.”

But his initial unbelief and doubt of God notwithstanding, he would go on to have his own experience and encounter with God, and he explains how.

“It was around when I was 12 or 13, and like I said before, I wasn’t always first choice at my football teams. I started late. There were some tough times when I was lying at home because I was bad and some players in the team made fun of me, even the coach made fun of me.

“And there was a time when I felt quite alone, but from somewhere, there was this strength and voice that told me ‘just go on, just go on, keep pushing through that’. I never could explain to myself where the strength came from.

“To me, this was the time where I said ‘okay, I found my way to God’. That’s the point where he should that ‘if you think you’re alone, I am still there’.”

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