Wigan Athletic old-boy lifts lid on how close he came to coming back
Leon Balogun broke Wigan Athletic hearts at the weekend with QPR's winning goal - then did so again by revealing how close he came to returning to the DW this summer.
The 34-year-old defender was the difference between Latics gaining what would have been a deserved point at Loftus Road and slipping to a fifth defeat in six matches.
Balogun had been one of the 'Band of Brothers' who fought so hard to keep Latics in the Championship after they were placed into administration just over two years ago.
Indeed, after joining on loan from Brighton in January 2020, the Nigeria international tasted defeat only once in 11 appearances - at Brentford, when he was forced off injured after only six minutes.
After spending two years at Rangers following Latics' drop into League One, Balogun has admitted for the first time how close he came to rejoining Latics and Leam Richardson when he became a free agent.
"I was speaking with Leam a lot, they wanted to figure out if I would consider coming back," he said.
"Obviously having worked with him, we have a relationship, and I said: 'Look, try to come up with an offer, and let's see where it goes'.
"It was a bit back and forth, and then it went quiet.
"To be fair, QPR were probably the first club that asked about me in the summer, and then it went quiet there as well.
"I'm obviously happy they came back in but, had it not have worked out with QPR, Wigan was probably the most likely place for me to go.
"There's no need for anyone to lie about it, and I think everyone would have understood why I would have gone back.
"I enjoyed my time there and it would have been nice to have given a bit back, because they are still in the rebuilding phase."
Despite his stay with Latics being relatively brief, Balogun admits the eventful few months still weighs on his mind.
"It was a strange time for everyone, with the Covid situation going on as well," he said.
"The season was obviously extended, and I actually had to extend my contract for another two or three weeks to make sure I could play in the last few games.
"We just knocked out one game after another, trying to make up the points deduction.
"And the one that stands out for me, still to this day, is Fulham when we drew at home, and I almost scored the winner.
"The mood in the group at the time was: 'We are Wigan, we defy the odds', and that's still the case, which I really like about the club.
"The people in and around the club are really good, and they deserve the world."
As Balogun alluded to, he almost scored one of the most important goals in Latics history, only to be denied by a fine save from Fulham goalkeeper Marek Rodak.
"I still think about that moment, and I just wonder: 'How did he save that?'" Balogun acknowledged.
"I remember going over to him and, in a friendly way, I insulted him a little bit, I said: 'How did you get down to that, you...'
"He just said: 'That's my job, that's what I have to do', and I just said: 'Nah, not today man, please', because they were already in the play-offs and had nothing to gain.
"It was so frustrating, because we missed out on not getting relegated by a single point - after the deduction - and nobody in that club deserved it.
"Even in the few months I was there, everybody was outstanding, it was a real family unit, and it was a really sad story what happened."
Thankfully Latics are in a much better place these days, and Balogun says he saw enough aty the weekend to suggest the side has more than enough to retain their Championship status under Richardson.
"I'm quite positive they will be okay this season, Leam has done a great job," he added.
"As much as we were not on our A-game on the day, Wigan made it hard for us.
"And I still look out for their fortunes, because they really helped me out at a time when I needed help with my career.
"I still carry a lot of respect for Wigan and especially to Leam, who took over at a very difficult time.
"I was talking to Leam after the game, and I told him I still follow the fortunes and how they're doing.
"I used to 'like' all their posts on social media, but now I can't any more!
"I wish them all the best and I think they are doing a great job this season."