The Nigerian forward has impressed since arriving in South Wales, but he may need to reinvent himself to best serve his new club
By Ed Dove
Looking back to the end of the summer, Cardiff City appeared to be the best equipped of the newly-promoted sides to survive in the Premier League.
The Welsh side had built upon their title-winning season in the Championship by recruiting a host of exciting, established players and were relishing the prospect of a return to the top flight and a first opportunity to play in the EPL.
The various controversies and embarrassments of the previous few years appeared to have been forgotten. Despite “selling their soul’ to achieve promotion—a situation I will touch on below—Cardiff City had arrived, and their unlimited potential was finally about to be realised.
The acquisition of Peter Odemwingie sought to address these deficiencies.
Wanted: Forward who brings goals & experience
Naturally, as is always the case for promoted sides, any signings were inevitably going to involve trade-offs. While Caulker is a promising centre-back, recognised by his country, does he have the experience and the guile for the relegation battle that awaits? Medel might be tenacious and rugged but, as Spanish football expert Sid Lowe once remarked, he too easily tips the “fundamental player/liability balance…towards the latter.”
So too Odemwingie. The Nigerian brings goals and experience, but the ‘baggage’ that accompanies him has been well documented.
Once the darling of West Bromwich Albion, the forward’s relationship with his former club deteriorated to such a point that it became impossible to ever imagine a future for him in the Black Country.
It was a decline that I have covered closely since its origin in January. On the final evening of the transfer window, tempted by rumours that Queens Park Rangers were interested on securing his signature, Odemwingie infamously drove across England, from the West Midlands to London, in order to push through the move.
Drop it, Doe Eyes!
Despite batting his eyelids doefully in the direction of Harry Redknapp, and despite talking fondly to the Sky Sports news team about his ‘new club’, QPR’s, chances of surviving relegation, the move never happened.
Redknapp bluffed, the Albion called it, and Odemwingie was left as the odd man out.
One can only imagine the rumblings and bumblings that passed though the mind of the former Lokomotiv Moscow man as he drove the long road back to the Hawthorns.
Needless to say, the act of perceived greed ruined his relationship with the Albion fans. Their one-time hero had forgotten his midnight promises the moment that a younger model had lifted her skirts for his attention. Naturally, they weren’t best pleased.
The Nigerian was booed out of the building when Steve Clarke sent him to warm up against Wigan last season, he was belittled by long-time Albion fan and television presenter Adrian Chiles at the club’s end-of-season dinner and the club’s recruitment this summer, signing Victor Anichebe, Matej Vydra and Nicolas Anelka, as well as promoting Saido Berahino from within, pointed firmly towards a post-Odemwingie future.
The summer fizzed with speculation as to the frontman’s next destination in a career that was beginning to veer from dispute to dispute. Almost all of the teams in the bottom half of the Premier League were linked with his signature at one point or other; Stoke and Swansea looked close to sealing the deal before Cardiff eventually moved in.
Ideally, the Bluebirds wouldn’t be putting their faith in such a potentially problematic individual. However, they are where they are, near the bottom of the pecking order, and thus need to turn to the likes of Odemwingie. Malky Mackay sought a “game-changing” addition to his squad, and Peter was what arrived.
Tan has redefined the capital club
Despite making it to the top flight, the Welsh side have rarely looked further than two steps away from turmoil over the last few seasons. The group of Malaysian investors that entered the club at the beginning of the decade have pumped in enormous amounts of money with the aim of establishing a following in the Far East.
Such ambitions have, however, come at a cost.
The owners have insisted on changing the side’s colours from blue to red, breaking with over 100 years of tradition in a move that has been particularly problematic for a club nicknamed ‘The Bluebirds’. Similarly, the club’s logo has been altered drastically. The bluebird has been phased out, relocated to a tiny spot at the base of the crest, while a dominant Welsh dragon has been employed, straddling the motto “Fire & Passion”.
The fans have struggled to sustain their distain, particularly in light of such terrific on-field successes, but the owners are continuing to alienate themselves, particularly after appearing to undermine popular boss Mackay over recent weeks.
Odemwingie enters such a cauldron of emotion and discontent, mistrust and hope, but should find opportunity among the thunderstorms in South Wales.
Bellamy: A Model to Follow
As an elder statesman within a young squad, as a player who has travelled to World Cups, who has captained Nigeria at the Cup of Nations, who has broken records as a goal-scorer in the Premier League, Odemwingie, now 32, should emerge as one of the squad’s natural leaders.
Across from him in the dressing room, he will find Craig Bellamy, one of the Premier League’s most controversial characters. The veteran Welsh forward provides Odemwingie with a perfect template for reinvention.
After it became clear that there was no future for him at Manchester City, and then Liverpool, Bellamy opted to step down a division and sign for his hometown club. The forward, once the enfant terrible of English football, realised his responsibilities and matured into the side’s talisman and one of the squad’s key figures. He stated that guiding the Bluebirds to the top flight was the defining achievement of his career.
What Cardiff need right now, amidst the intense demands of the Premier League, among the deep-seated discomfort that lingers at the club, is for Odemwingie to take a leaf out of Bellamy’s book. If the Nigerian can put the silly business behind him and realise the value of the opportunity afforded him in South Wales, then he can realistically redefine his own standing within the English game.
Maybe even a spot at next summer's World Cup is not a total impossibility.
Both player and club understand the vicissitudes that alienation brings, Odemwingie now has the power to ensure history does not repeat itself.