Bargain buy Odemwingie finds life at West Brom to his liking
Published 23/01/2011 | 05:00
Who has been the best value signing of this season? Rafael van der Vaart has given Tottenham some Champions League class for the relative modest sum of £8m; Newcastle found superb value in spending £3.5m on Ivorian midfielder Cheick Tiote; Arsenal were most astute in the free transfer market, picking up the excellent Marouane Chamakh. Yet it is hard to look beyond West Bromwich Albion's purchase of Peter Odemwingie as the best value deal of this season.
For £2.5m they signed a 29-year-old Nigeria international with 49 caps, who had played in the Champions League with Lille and had a one in three scoring ratio in French and Russian football. He has immediately settled into English football, scoring eight goals, and can play on the wing, as a second striker or up front on his own. And all for pretty much a tenth of what Aston Villa could end up paying for Darren Bent.
Albion cannot match the spending power of their rivals in the English Midlands, so they have had to cut their cloth, and they have done so stylishly. Dan Ashworth, the club's sporting and technical director, has identified bargains from across the globe which Roberto di Matteo has swiftly integrated into his side.
Odemwingie has had the greatest impact, though, and it is no coincidence that his return to form and fitness in the 3-2 win against Blackpool ended a run of six defeats (he scored twice). "He just slid into it with no fuss," said Di Matteo. "He arrived on the Friday and played on the Saturday. It's just natural and like he's been here for a long time. He's been decisive for us but he also works very hard for the team."
That altruistic work-rate is even more impressive when you consider the year that Odemwingie has had. He went from the African Cup of Nations in Angola this time last year (he was one of the best players at the tournament) straight into pre-season training with Lokomotiv Moscow (the Russian League runs from March to November), then away to the World Cup in South Africa, back to the Russian league before moving to the Premier League at the end of August.
Not surprisingly, he has picked up small injuries, many of which he has played with. "My team needs me, I am full of desire to play," he said. "That means a player plays through a little pain. In December it was the first time I had played on a Sunday and then a Tuesday. That's one day's break! I feel it in my body that I work a lot here. I am sleeping in the day time."
Life at the Hawthorns is at odds with the ugliness that followed his departure from Russia, with fans holding up a racist banner at their next game. Odemwingie described it as a "disgrace" and said the whole experience left him feeling "sick".
But Odemwingie is not washing his hands of the country. His mother, Raisa, is Russian and he was born in Tashkent in 1981, then still part of the Soviet Union (it is now capital of Uzbekistan). At the age of two his family moved to Nigeria, his father's homeland, and they settled in Benin City.
The family moved back to Tashkent for his secondary education and he started to take his football seriously, playing for clubs in Uzbekistan and Tatarstan before leaving his family to join CSKA Moscow's academy. At 18, he returned to Nigeria and played for Bendel Insurance. He moved to La Louviere in Belgium in 2002 and on to Lille in northern France three years later.
In 2007, he moved to Lokomotiv for £10m but at West Brom he's finally settled. He has adapted quickly to English life, enjoys a great rapport with his team-mates and, at 29, his mum is teaching him to cook from Moscow via video-calling on his laptop. "I cooked last week on Skype. I was showing my Mum the pot over the webcam. It was a type of fried rice, a complicated dish. She had to tell me every second what I had to do. It was good, I was surprised."
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