Odemwingie: England suits me perfectly
Peter Odemwingie has developed a reputation as one of football’s nomads. A Nigeria international born in Uzbekistan, the striker’s club career has been a tale of five clubs in as many different countries, with Birmingham the latest stop in a journey that has taken him through Belgium, France, Russia and Nigeria itself. Yet now, at the age of 29, he looks to have finally found a home.
Even with Juventus leading a host of continental suitors aiming to add another stamp to his passport, it seems Odemwingie may take some persuading. After all, his mutual infatuation with English football has flourished, with the former Lokomotiv Moscow striker – signed for just £2 million last summer – emerging as one of the sensations of the Premier League season.
The division’s managers recently elevated him alongside Rafael van der Vaart and David Silva in a vote for the top three newcomers, recognition for a campaign in which he has outscored the likes of Wayne Rooney and Didier Drogba. No West Bromwich Albion player has ever produced a Premier League haul to match Odemwingie's current tally, and it is the Nigerian's goals that look likely to spare the Baggies their traditional fate of a swift return to the second tier.
Fresh and exciting challenges also loom in the international arena, where he is once again at the forefront of the Super Eagles’ attack, so it was no surprise that FIFA.com should find Odemwingie in relaxed, contented mood as he assessed a landmark campaign.
FIFA.com: Peter, with a few games left to go, how would you assess your first season in English football?
Peter Odemwingie: I’m really happy with how it’s gone. Personally it’s been a big success and I feel very comfortable and at home here. English football suits me perfectly really. The team had a tough spell but we have been climbing the table again recently and I feel good about the future.
Roy Hodgson’s arrival as manager seems to have crucial to that turnaround. What has he brought to the club?
His mentality is probably the main thing. He’s a very strong person with real character, and he makes sure the team is always extremely well organised and focused. I must say too that I still admire Roberto Di Matteo (Hodgson’s predecessor) because we played some great football under him earlier in the season. But I do think we started relaxing after starting so well and began to think the job was done. Maybe the previous manager lost a bit of control when that started happening.
It’s been an amazing season in the Premier League, with so many teams potentially involved in the relegation battle and so few points separating everyone from the top five down. What have you made of it?
Obviously this is only my first season in England but everyone is saying that it’s a special one and I can see why. Everyone seems very close together - there’s no-one who’s way off at the bottom and no-one way better than the rest. For me, that’s a good thing for the league because you know that nothing’s certain in any match. Every team has quality players. The main thing is that we stay up and I think we're going to do that now.
You are now within three goals of making this the highest-scoring season of your career. How confident are you of breaking your own record?
That would be fantastic. It’s a target of mine anyway, so let’s see how it goes. I’ve never scored more than 14 in any season, so I have five games left to make it happen now. I’ll fight until the last minute of the last game to get there. Whatever happens though, it’s been a great season for me. I feel good here and I like the country and the Premier League a lot.
You’ve been linked with the likes of Juventus recently and Roy Hodgson has admitted that he fears he won’t be able to keep hold of you in the summer. Do you see yourself moving on?
You never know what’s round the corner in football but all I can say right now is that I’m very happy here at West Brom. I’m not anxious to move again. Transfers can always happen but this club gave me a chance in England and, as long as I’m happy and I’m scoring goals, I’ve no problem staying here.
West Brom have traditionally been known as something of a yo-yo club over, coming up to the Premier League one season and then going straight down the next. But do you see potential for something better?
I do, and the important thing for me is that the people at the club want something better. They made it clear to me that they want to stay in this league and become a team that competes to a good level every season. My hope is that, if we stay up, we can start raising our objectives and look at reaching the top half and qualifying for Europe.
Turning to Nigeria, results seem to be improving after that CAF Africa Cup of Nations qualifying defeat in Guinea last October. Are you still confident of qualifying?
Very much so. We’ve not been 100 per cent so far but although Guinea are top of the group at the moment, we still have to play them at home. I think that’s a big factor in our favour and I’m sure we’ll get the results we need.
There was talk of a bust-up between you and your coach, Samson Siasia, recently after you posted some critical comments on your Twitter page. Has that been resolved?
Everything is fine now. I poured out my frustration a bit but it wasn’t meant as an attack on the coach and I have apologised if it was taken that way. I was upset at the time because I felt that people didn’t understand why I had pulled out of a friendly match when I was struggling with an injury. But everything’s resolved now and we’ve both moved on.
Given that you were born in Uzbekistan to a Russian mother and a Nigerian father, you were obviously eligible to play for all three nations. What made you choose the Super Eagles?
My dad. For him, it wasn’t even a question! My mum was open to me playing for any country, and I would probably have been fine with playing for Uzbekistan or Russia. But it was a decision I made many years ago and I’ve never regretted it. Playing for Nigeria puts a smile on my face and I feel very happy and proud every time I pull on that shirt. Because I love football so much, I also think the passion Nigeria has for football and their style of play really suits me very well. I’ve had some great memories with the Super Eagles.
Was reaching the final of the Olympic Football Tournament in Beijing the best of those memories?
One of the best for sure. We really sparked at that tournament and the Olympics is special for anyone in sport. To come away with a silver medal was amazing and the whole experience is something I’ll always remember.
You were the squad’s only overage player in Beijing. Given that you enjoyed it so much, would you consider competing again on that basis in London next year?
Of course. I don’t know whether I will be called and we obviously still need to qualify, but it’s going to be another beautiful tournament and the fact it’s in England will make it extra special. I’d be honoured to play.
What about last year’s FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa? How do you reflect on that?
I have mixed emotions about it because it’s a dream to play in a World Cup and the experience was something I’ll never forget. But it didn’t go well for us as a team and, frankly, I feel that I should have played more. I’d played 11 or 12 times during qualifying, yet when the tournament came I was out of the starting line-up. It was still an amazing experience though. I still have my accreditation card actually and it’s a nice thing to look at from time to time.
You’ll be 33 by the time Brazil 2014 comes around. Do you still have ambitions of competing in that one?
I would love to. You see players staying at the top level until they’re 35, 36 these days and I have always tried to be careful about looking after myself, eating the right things and resting properly. I still feel I have a few good years ahead so maybe I could end my international career in Brazil. That would be wonderful.