Odemwingie – Super Eagle in the docks
It’s fair to say that the recalcitrant post-match interview is a rarity in football these days. Rare are the wide eyed referees stuttering as they own up to making a poor decision, even rarer are honest managers, lips trembling, nervously admitting that, yes, perhaps it was a silly choice to sell Song, Van Persie, Fabregas, and Nasri in the space of two summers. Instead, the current bunch are a humourless lot, reactions to innocent questions delivered with a pseudo-aggression and solemn, sober frowns. Rhetorical questions are a favourite, and even after the departure of Kenny Dalglish – perhaps the chief culprit – the challenging postulations of the post-match are there for all to see.
And so Peter Odemwingie’s contrite interview after his red card against Fulham was a breath of fresh air, a change of pace for the Premier League. The red card had, by all accounts, resulted from an act of madness. After losing the ball to Fulham right back Sascha Riether, Odemwingie saw red, figuratively speaking, lashing out with a well placed boot to the German. Seconds later he saw red very literally, as referee Roger East didn’t hesitate in sending the Nigerian frontman to the changing rooms.
It was refreshing to see the striker ‘face the music’ after the bout, emerging before the amassed press to apologise unreservedly for his actions. The striker admitted he had lost his temper, and realised his error in lashing out. Odemwingie’s remorse was widely and heartily applauded by the Match of the Day team – the act was stupid, and unprofessional, but these things happen. The Nigerian’s mature post-match response will ensure negative reaction is kept to a minimum, despite West Bromwich eventually losing 3-0.
Forgive and forget seemed to be the mantra from the club’s hierarchy, although realistically that might be easier said than done for The Albion. Not traditionally to be found in the upper echelons of the Premier League, the club have, for over a decade, fought the perception that they are a ‘yo-yo side’, flopping aimlessly between England’s top two divisions. A long history, the club were founded back in 1878, isn’t counterbalanced by a long stream of honours – a league win back in 1920, before the invention of television or the discovery of penicillin, as well as a respectable 5 FA Cups (although the most recent did come over forty years ago) is the sum of honours that one might want to write home about.
Odemwingie’s red, and his subsequent three match suspension, beginning this weekend as the Albion host Reading, may well demonstrate directly how much this historic club rely on their Nigerian frontman. Also, indirectly, his absence may well remind Nigerian observers of just what this talented attacker is capable of.
I will take this opportunity to say, on record, that I am a believer in the new Baggies boss Steve Clarke. His appointment led many pundits to speculate over the summer, that the Midlands side would struggle under his leadership. Clarke has made his name as a number two, assisting the likes of Mourinho, as well as the aforementioned Dalglish, at Chelsea and Liverpool respectively. Too often the fallacy is rolled out; once an assistant, always an assistant, and ignoring the legacies of men such as Bob Paisley, Roy Hodgson, and Walter Smith, all of whom served as assistant managers before successfully being promoted to the top job, many in the media predict hard times ahead for Clarke and his Baggies. But the new man has an exciting squad in his hands, gently cultivated by Hodgson and Roberto Di Matteo before him, and I am optimistic about their chances this season.
Now apparently injury free, Odemwingie can be the man to lead the side, and even in his absence, Albion fans might be quietly confident about their attacking options. The Belgian giant Romelu Lukaku has impressed in his brief stints in an Albion shirt. Big, and strong, yet mobile and assertive, Lukaku is capable of menacing even the most imposing of centre backs. New signing Marcus Rosenberg may also look to step in and make an impact. A new arrival from Bremen, the Swedish international has great experience, but has only momentary tasted the Premier League. The favourite to lead the line is likely to be Shane Long. If he can overcome last season’s injury worries, the young Irishman could well step up a gear this campaign – at home against Reading may be the perfect occasion to stake his claim.
Still, none of these men have made as much of an impact in the Premier League as the Nigerian. With 10 goals last season, alongside 15 the year before, the Uzbekistan-born frontman became the first Albion player to hit double figures in consecutive Premier League seasons. In April 2011, a stunning series of matches saw him become the first Albion star in history to score in four back-to-back Premier League games. This is a man who knows how to make firm friends with those in the West Midlands. His three games out may demonstrate painfully just how important his goals are to the Black Country outfit.
And what of the national team? Recently, I have chronicled the fluid fortunes of various Nigerian strikers, and imagining the likes of a potentially rejuvenated Obafemi Martins, alongside a young prospect like a Jude Aneke or a Victor Moses is a mouth-watering prospect. Throw in the likes of Peter Utaka, Ideye Brown, and the two Uche boys, and Naija have a frontline that could dominate any that stand before them in the Afcon 2013.
So where does Odemwingie fit in? The striker will turn 33 during the next World Cup, and so this approaching Cup of Nations could feasibly be his last opportunity to strike gold with the Super Eagles. With a recent domestic scoring record as impressive as any in the squad, Odemwingie will hope that selectors may ignore his average international record. A huge fan favourite in the West Midlands, the frontman will be hoping to garner similar popularity back in Nigeria come South Africa 2013.
West Bromwich fans certainly know what he can do.