The harsh reality of a relegation battle at the bottom of England’s third tier is a world away from the high life as a free-scoring striker in Manchester United’s academy or a budding Premier League career with West Ham.
Dubliner Mipo Odubeko is learning the hard way, the teenager currently on loan from West Ham to a Doncaster Rovers side fighting to stay away from League Two. Despite a haul of two wins and a draw from the last four games, they remain in danger of the drop. A test for the club and him, as the striker awaiting his first goal after nine games.
“I have scored goals my whole life, as a striker, it’s normal to have goal droughts, I didn’t really play for the first half of the season, I am only getting going now,” says the Tallaght native, who also was unable to find the net in a difficult spell on loan to Huddersfield Town earlier in the season.
“There will be times in my career where I have goal droughts, there will be times when I’ll score two or three goals per game, you have to take the bad with the good, so I’m not too worried. I am still 19, which is quite young. The main thing for me now is game time. Once I am getting game time and developing, the goals will come.”
A relegation battle with Rovers brings highs, like Odubeko’s appearance in front of a crowd of 38,000 when Doncaster won away to Sunderland, and a win away to Lincoln also stands out. “We are willing to fight and I feel we have a good chance of staying up,” he says.
Odubeko draws comfort from things he sees around him, like the form of his one-time Old Trafford colleague Anthony Elanga, a recent saviour for Manchester United.
“I went to school with Anthony, we played together. He’s a great lad and deserves everything he gets. Not only is he a great footballer, but he’s a fantastic person too. He’s a big player, an important player and I feel he will go on to be an important player for them in their future,” says Odubeko.
His own story started in Dublin, took a detour through Manchester United and led to West Ham. Starting with Dublin clubs Brookfield Celtic and Crumlin United, he had a short spell at St Joseph’s Boys before a move to England, aged 12. “My family planned on moving to England anyway, we had family in the UK and it was easier to move over and I had a platform to play football. It worked out in my favour,” he says, Odubeko scoring regularly for Manchester United’s youth teams before he opted to move on, to West Ham, in October 2019.
“Man United was a great time for me. I grew up there, there was a lot of education on and off the pitch. United are the biggest club in the world, I worked under some great coaches, I was lucky to play with great players who have gone on in their careers.”
In his first full season at West Ham, he was brought onto the big stage, with a debut as a late sub in an FA Cup win over Stockport in January 2021, and three weeks later, David Moyes used him again in another Cup tie, this one a 1-0 loss at Old Trafford.
This season, a loan at Huddersfield did not go to plan as he played intermittently, but Doncaster now offer more football, and Hammers staff, including first-team coach Kevin Nolan, are regularly updated on his form. “I speak to Kevin almost every day. He talks to me about how I am doing,” says Odubeko.
International football has been a mixed bag for the Tallaght man. He first emerged in green in an U-16 game in 2016, alongside future senior star Troy Parrott and international-in-waiting, close friend Festy Ebosele, but since he lined out for the U-17s against Finland in March 2019, he’s not appeared.
Last year, he withdrew from an U-21 squad for a friendly away to Wales, and U-21 manager Jim Crawford appeared to be frustrated with the level of communication with some fears that Nigeria, and possibly England, could try and recruit Odubeko.
Now he says he has never waivered despite suggestions that he had cold feet about Ireland. “It’s very easy from the outside to make that sort of assumption, but I am me. I am the one who knows what’s going on. In my mind, there has never been any doubt or any other consideration. Ireland gave me the platform to be who I am today, the player I am today. It’s clear to me,” he says, adding that he’s in regular contact with U-21 boss Crawford.
“Jim knows what’s going on and so do I. In recent times, for call-ups, I was around the first team at West Ham. They came when I was solely focused on West Ham and getting into the first team there, I was on the bench a lot.
“That was my focus and I didn’t want anything to get in the way of that. That could have been taken the wrong way, but I have never taken my eyes off Ireland. I was born and bred in Tallaght, and I grew up watching Robbie Keane. I went to the same school as Robbie, he was always my idol, so I never ever took my eyes off Ireland.
“I have watched every Irish game. I see lads I grew up with, like Troy Parrott and Andrew Omobamidele, you can see the pathway there. Festy hasn’t got his first cap yet, but he’s within touching distance, it’s good that there is good young talent there, and if you’re good enough, you’re old enough. It’s good for Ireland to have so much talent at the moment. My main focus is Doncaster Rovers, to help them get to where they need to be and, God willing, everything will fall into place.”