Arsenal striker Folarin Balogun said Gareth Southgate had no impact on his decision to switch allegiance and play for the United States after the England manager had urged him to be patient in waiting for a place with the senior national team.
The New York-born 21-year-old, who has been on loan at Ligue 1 side Stade de Reims, said last month that he would represent the U.S. after he played for England at Under-21 level.
His decision is seen as a triumph for the Americans, as Balogun scored 21 Ligue 1 goals this season, after Southgate said it would take time for him to start for the Three Lions.
Balogun arrived at training camp in Carson, California, this week ahead of a showdown between champion the U.S. and rival Mexico in the Concacaf Nations League semifinals.
“My decision to come here was just really an internal decision between myself, my family and my agent. It wasn’t anything to do with the comments of Gareth Southgate or anything to do with noise I heard from outside,” Balogun said on Friday.
“That was something I wanted to do. It [was] something my family supported and at the end of the day, I just went with my heart and went with what I thought was the best,” he added.
Balogun said he was already fitting in perfectly with the squad and had received an education in the history of the rivalry between the U.S. and Mexico.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity, not just for me, but for the team,” he said. “Mexico and the U.S. have a big rivalry, so I’m looking forward to it.
“And, of course, there’d be no better way to introduce myself than playing against a big opposition where it matters.”
By the time Balogun started training with the U.S. team this week, interim coach Anthony Hudson had quit to become coach of Qatar’s Al Markhiya and B.J. Callaghan took over as the second interim coach while the U.S. Soccer Federation searches for a long-term replacement for Gregg Berhalter.
“He was one of the first guys I called when I got the news,” Callaghan said of Balogun. “He’s someone that I spoke to about embracing the brotherhood that we have. It’s a welcoming environment. The guys are going to welcome and they’re all excited and he’s excited. … But at the same time, I challenged him and I said, listen, you have to put yourself out there and you have to integrate with the group.”
“We have to feed him the ball and he’s going to put it in the goal,” said midfielder Yunus Musah, who has known Balogun since they both were at Arsenal’s youth academy. “That’s pretty much it.”
Information from Reuters and the Associated Press was used in this report.