By Ed Dove
Few seasons have derailed quite like that of Peter Odemwingie. Beginning the year as a West Bromwich Albion superstar, both his application and loyalty have come under serious question in the subsequent months. As the Premier League comes to a close, the Nigerian frontman’s future is under review—it looks likely that Peter will be chasing his dreams away, far away, from the Black Country.
It is remarkable how far things have fallen between player and fanbase. Back last summer, he was the hero that the Albion fans had been craving for so long; the electric frontman who would guarantee their sustained existence within the top tier.
The numbers, up to that point, told their own story: in the two preceding seasons, Odemwingie hit 25 goals, his hauls of 15 and 10 making him the first Albion player to hit double figures in consecutive seasons since the Premier League’s conception. During a hot spell in April 2011, the Uzbekistan-born frontman became the first of the club to score in four consecutive Premier League games.
The club had been crying out for a hero, and Odemwingie duly arrived.
Perversely, this season has been Albion’s finest of the Premier League era—while many doubted their chances this year, and questioned the ability of first-time coach Steve Clarke, the Throstles have prospered, and after a terrific early start to the season, have found themselves comfortably cemented in the top half.
I say ‘perverse’ because this season’s success has been achieved despite early concerns and unhappy forecasts, and largely without contribution from their erstwhile star striker. Odemwingie’s contribution of five goals has been far beneath what the club would expect from him, and with only 13 starts, he has been eclipsed by the likes of Romelu Lukaku and Shane Long.
While his performances on the field have been below par, epitomised in the reckless red card he sustained against Fulham back in September, it is his actions off it that have made his future at the Hawthorns so untenable.
January was the emotional whirlpool of his season, and the nadir that has prompted the repercussions of recent months.
First Odemwingie was omitted from Stephen Keshi’s squad for the Africa Cup of Nations. The forward was in no mood to take his rejection in good grace, and very publically lambasted the national selectors for their decision—suggesting that the NFF had been incredibly disrespectful by overlooking him.
This episode has surely all but spelled the end for Odemwingie’s time with the Super Eagles.
Subsequently, came one of the most bizarre and unlikely episodes in British transfer history as, on the evening of transfer deadline day, a bright-eyed Odemwingie—having heard about Harry Redknapp’s reported interest in him---drove himself all the way from the West Midlands to West London, to Queen’s Park Rangers, in order to force a move through.
This was before the clubs had even agreed a fee for his services!
In the event, a deal wasn’t put in place, and the Nigerian was forced to walk the long walk back to the Hawthorns, embarrassed and disgraced.
While Premier League observers across the country had a good old laugh at Peter’s expense, the ill-fated video of him outside QPR’s Loftus Road stadium received extensive coverage, Albion fans were less than impressed with the Nigerian’s venture. His reference to QPR with the first-person plural personal pronoun, ‘we’, was a show of disloyalty a little too far for most Baggies fans.
Television presenter and overstated Albion fan Adrian Chiles was criticised by manager Clarke recently when he chose to name Odemwingie the club’s ‘Tw*t of the Year’ at an end-of-season dinner, but his sentiment will undoubtedly be shared by a vast majority of the club’s fanbase.
Peter’s public apology, delivered after his brief sojourn to London, failed to convince, and Odemwingie’s recalcitrant persona was soon betrayed by the genuine bitterness felt towards the club’s hierarchy. His comments—many of which have been aired via Twitter—have led to him receiving four fines this year, and with the season drawing to a close, he looks ripe for the exit door.
While Clarke has insisted that he hasn’t ‘frozen out’ Odemwingie, the striker’s appearances have naturally dried up as his relationship with the club has soured so.
The new-found animosity generated between the Albion fans and their onetime hero was evident as WBA took on Wigan at the Hawthorns recently. The striker was roundly booed as he warmed up during the game, and things turned nasty as he took a moment out of his routine to share a word with his wife and child, who were sat in the crowd.
Steve Clarke admitted after the game that the fans’ reaction to the Nigerian has left him with little choice but to find a new home for his forward this summer.
Despite Odemwingie insisting that he still loves the club, and has a deep respect for the fanbase, who he described as the “soul of the club”, the situation is worryingly reminiscent of the culmination of his last contract. Upon his departure from Russian side Lokomotiv Moscow, the fans paraded a banner thanking the Albion for taking him off their hands—there was little love lost there either.
So, where does the striker go from here?
In the past, Juventus and Tottenham Hotspur have both been linked with the player. However, since their reported interest, both of these clubs have improved in stature, while the forward’s stock has dramatically fallen. I can’t see either of these two giants being tempted by a 31-year-old with the baggage that Odemwingie carries today.
The Albion had previously rejected a £4 million bid for his services from Wigan, and while it would take a lot less to snare him now, the Latics' likely descent into the Championship would make them an unfavourable destination. QPR’s own relegation, and the likely financial implications of such a tumble, will surely mean that the opportunity there---for player and club—has passed.
Wherever he ends up, both parties will surely be glad to see the end of such an unflattering and damaging episode, although I imagine that in years to come, both will reminisce fondly of those golden years—before it all went wrong.