William Troost-Ekong on Victor Osimhen, facing Lionel Messi & fighting football’s carbon footprint


Nigeria captain and Africa Cup of Nations player of the tournament William Troost-Ekong has revealed what makes Victor Osimhen a special player amid links with a Premier League move.

Since firing SSC Napoli to their first Serie A title in three decades during the 2022/23 season, star striker Osimhen has been heavily linked with a potential move to Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal among others.

With Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis confirming that Osimhen is due to leave the club during the summer, rumours regarding the Nigerian international’s next potential destination have ramped up significantly in recent months.

In an interview with 90min’s ‘Football’s Climate Conversation’ podcast, Troost-Ekong discussed what has made his international teammate one of the best, and most sought after, strikers in world football.

“I think what’s made him special is his work ethic, I’ve never seen something like it,” Troost-Ekong explains. “He’s relentless and he plays every game like it’s the last game he’s ever going to play.

Nigeria captain and AFCON player of the tournament William Troost-Ekong and Sokito CEO Jake Hardy join this month’s episode of 90min and Pledgeball’s Football’s Climate Conversation. If you can’t see the embed, click here to listen!

“His physical attributes – speed, his power, how he jumps – make him very dangerous because you can never feel safe. I think he always tries to run after every ball, and then when he gets in the box he’s a good finisher. I don’t think he’s a striker who is a very natural finisher, but if it’s something that’s a 50/50 or he has to stick his head out or his foot out then he definitely will.”

Troost-Ekong also spoke about another world class forward, Lionel Messi, choosing the legendary Argentine as the greatest player he’s ever faced off against – having done so during the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

“It would have to be Lionel Messi at the World Cup. We lost 2-1, last minute, and he scored the first goal and it was something special,” Troost-Ekong recalled.

“He took it over the shoulder with the back of his heel with his right foot, and I remember I felt like I almost wanted to clap – it was something special. And of course when you see him as probably the greatest player of all time, to witness that, unfortunately being on the wrong side of it, it was something special.

“You’re never in control [when one-v-one against Messi]. I did manage to get one or two blocks or tackles, I don’t know if maybe that was just his bad moments, but for the rest of the game his reading – he walked around a lot – and was always in the right positions.

“Sometimes it looked like he wasn’t involved in the game, but then when he was, he was someone that we couldn’t stop so I think that’s the hardest thing, when someone’s unpredictable and can literally do everything with the ball. I think that’s what makes him special.”

“I always wanted to be part of a footballing movement that would be good for the planet”

– William Troost-Ekong

Troost-Ekong was speaking on 90min and Pledgeball’s ‘Football’s Climate Conversation’ podcast as part of a partnership with eco-friendly boot brand Sokito – a company which the defender has invested in and is a brand ambassador for.

The centre-back put the brand on the map by becoming the first professional footballer to wear eco-friendly boots at a major tournament during AFCON at the start of 2024, scoring three goals in the custom ‘The Scudetta’ boots.

Troost-Ekong’s custom boots were notably made from sustainable materials such as bamboo, corn waste and sugarcane.

“It was really special to debut The Scudetta boots at the tournament, it was something that we’ve been working on for a long time,” said Troost-Ekong.

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Troost-Ekong wearing the Sokito boots / DANIEL BELOUMOU OLOMO/GettyImages

“I joined Sokito as a brand over two years ago. I always wanted to be part of a footballing movement that would be good for the planet, and for us to be able to create a football boot that is 100% recyclable is something special.

“For me, the biggest thing as a player and also an investor and ambassador, I wanted [the boot] to be functional and to be like any boot that I’ve worn before. So for the boot to perform so well and to get so much coverage and to get everyone talking, that was the real idea behind having a signature boot for the AFCON.

“It was a great success. We’re really proud of what we created, and really excited for what we can do in the future.”

As well as raising awareness through the Sokito boots, the Nigeria captain also hit the headlines for offsetting the carbon emissions from his transfer from Watford to Salernitana in 2023, getting his hands dirty by planting olive trees in Salerno in order to do so.

Speaking about his interest in combatting football’s carbon footprint, he said: “I think it was started when I got introduced to Jake [Sokito’s CEO] and the brand. Of course you know, somewhat, about climate change and how it’s affecting our everyday lives.

“I’m 30 years old now, so I think about what’s changed in my lifetime, what have I seen, and then also being in Nigeria for quite a lot of my youth, and being there frequently since, and seeing the polution they have there. The air pollution, the water pollution, and how that actually impacts people there. Over there, sometimes, it’s a lot more obvious and confronting than being here [England] where you might not necessarily feel the direct impact.

“It was something that I was really thinking about, and this was a tool that I could use to explore it more. I’ve learnt a lot in the journey. It got me thinking about all of the travelling I’m doing as a football player, and also what can I do to make changes in my personal life, but also share the message.

“That’s been my journey for the last two years. I’ve got three young kids, and if they want to play football or be athletes, I’d like to think that they’ll be able to have the same opportunities – especially when you see things floods and general conditions for people to be even be outside – to have the chance to exercise. What’s it going to look like it in 10 or 20 years when they’ll be my age, and also for their children and everyone coming after that, will they have the same opportunities? That gets you thinking [about climate change] really.”

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