When Peter Utaka moved to Danish club Odense BK in September 2008 after four years in Belgium, one might have thought that the Nigerian had acclimatised to the cooler climes of the Old Continent. However, the African was to discover a whole new dimension to the term 'cold weather' in his new Scandinavian abode.
"I've been happy here from day one because the lads did a great job in helping me settle in. Still, it's a bit too cold for my liking! I got used to it after a while, though, because my team-mates made the transition very easy for me both on and off the pitch," Utaka told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview.
When the Nigerian first joined Odense, originally founded in 1887 as Odense Cricketklub, he was partnered by Senegalese striker Djiby Fall in attack. When Fall transferred to Russian Premier Liga outfit Lokomotiv Moscow in March 2009, the goalscoring burden fell solely on Utaka's shoulders.
Better to come
"I had a big gap to fill when Djiby Fall left the club," revealed the younger brother of Portsmouth winger John Utaka. "He's a great player and a great guy, so it was a big challenge." It was a challenge he was to thrive under: With 12 goals in 27 matches during his first season with the club, Utaka played a major role in Odense finishing in second place behind eventual champions FC Copenhagen.
"It was really difficult to adjust to the Danish league to begin with. I had to perform every week to make sure the team kept pace at the top of the table. Away from the pitch it wasn't so hard because my team-mates helped me so much," said the striker on his first season in the SAS Ligaen.
Things are going just as swimmingly for the Nigerian this term as well - perhaps even a little better. With 16 games played Odense are top of the standings and 12 of their 28 goals have come from Utaka, making the 25-year-old the league's top scorer so far.
"I've been happy with my performances so far, but I wouldn't say no to a few more goals. I try to improve with every day and every match so that I can become the best striker in the league," said Utaka on his personal ambitions in Denmark's top tier.
The target for the remainder of the current season is clear: the club are aiming for their first championship success since 1989 and the fourth in their history. Their closest rivals for the crown are title favourites Copenhagen and Esbjerg, who are both lurking just four points behind.
"At the start of the season we made it our aim to improve on the season before. We were second last season, so logically now we want to be No1. It's a big challenge for all of us, but it's a challenge we all accept," he continued.
This coming Monday the league leaders take on relegation-threatened HB Koge, who currently sit second bottom in the table having conceded 38 goals - the worst defensive record in the division. Still, there is one thing that the two clubs have in common: Koge also have an African sharpshooter among their ranks.
Kenyan international Emmanuel Ake has been playing in Denmark since 2000 and joined his current club from Herfolge BK over the summer. The 29-year-old has scored five of his team's 14 goals this season and is desperate to help his club avoid the drop.
"I think he's a really good player," said Utaka on his fellow front-runner. "He's in good form, he's good on the ball and his shooting is spot on, which is of course the most important thing for a striker."
FIFA World Cup dream
If Utaka can continue his goalscoring form throughout the rest of the season, he could move into contention for a place in the Nigeria squad at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ next summer.
"It's one of my biggest dreams. Every player wants to play in a World Cup or in a tournament like the Champions League. If I got the opportunity to play at the World Cup it would be a dream come true for me. It would be amazing," said the ambitious forward, who is yet to make a senior appearance for the Super Eagles.
"I need to work hard and show that I'm worthy of a place. I need to give 110 per cent in every game and perform at a top level every week," he added as the interview came to a close. "Of course I need to keep on scoring, too. It's not going to be easy, but I'll be doing everything humanly possible to make it. I think I have a pretty good chance of making the World Cup squad."