Osaze Odemwingie Comes Of Age
December 25, 2009
To most fans, Nigeria's Europe-based stars are not committed to the national team cause and would rather put their clubs ahead of the Super Eagles.
However, in the last year or so, one player has put to sword such a sweeping charge against the country's foreign pros: Osaze Odemwingie.
The 2010 Africa Cup of Nations is therefore coming at the right time for the Locomotiv Moscow star. This will be his fourth Nations Cup and it comes when the 28-year-old striker is playing his best football at this level.
Born of a Nigerian father and a Russian mother, "Osas" made his full international debut a friendly against Kenya in May 2002, but it was until the 2004 Nations Cup in Tunisia that he really announced his arrival on the international scene with two well-taken strikes against South Africa.
Nigerian fans would also remember that the Super Eagles exited that particular tournament when he lost his own kick in the penalty shootout against the host nation in the semi-finals of the competition.
This would largely sum up his international career before now - hot this game and cold the next. It was such inconsistency that would push him down the pecking order in the national team, meaning that for several years he had to play second fiddle to the likes of Julius Aghahowa, Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Obafemi Martins and John Utaka.
But it now appears he has finally established himself in the team after some solid showings this year as the Super Eagles booked their flight to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
It has been a long journey for the versatile forward since he took the Nigeria Premier League by storm by featuring for hometown club Bendel Insurance of Benin.
His father, Peter Odemwingie senior, was the Insurance team doctor and one day when he was only seven he told his dad he will grow up to play for the club.
"While he was sitting beside me one day during an Insurance game, he said - Daddy I will play for Insurance one day?. I was extremely moved because he was just seven then," recounted Odemwingie senior.
"At that point, I vowed to support him in achieving his childhood dream."
He continued: "I am proud of his achievements; I was called all sorts of names when people heard that I supported his plans to be a footballer at a very young age.
"People kept a distance from me, lambasting me and the mother (Raisa Odemwingie) that being professional doctors, we should have allowed him follow a similar path."
"Osas" was born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and moved to Nigeria when he was just two years old.
After spending his early years in Nigeria, he returned to the former Soviet Union to complete his secondary education and subsequently joined the youth football academy of CSKA Moscow, where his three-year stint, between the ages of 15 and 17, instilled the required discipline and knowledge.
On his second return to Nigeria, he first starred for AS Racines Lagos before he finally realised his dream to play for Insurance at the age of 18.
"It was not an easy passage from Russian to Nigerian football," the father recalls.
"As a teenager he had two options, either to go to school or pursue a football career.
"So I gave him two years to prove himself as a footballer, he accepted and since then he has not let me down.
"I am just happy that he fulfilled his promise and now lives a dream people never thought could come true, now everyone is coming back to me, to associate with his success. Such is life."
In 2002, after narrowly missing the cut for that year's World Cup, he moved to Belgian club La Louviere in Belgium, and thereafter to modest French club Lille, where he began to feature in the UEFA Champions League against top teams like Manchester United.
Odemwingie blossomed under coach Claude Puel at Lille.
"His commitment to the game is high and he is not carried away with little things," Puel enthused.
"He is a multi-talented footballer, who could play in several positions. Although he prefers to play as support striker, he is equally good at leading the line, or playing as a wide midfielder, either left or right," added Christian Chukwu, who gave the player his first breakthrough at the Nations Cup in Tunisia five years ago.
"He has the right attitude, and he is always willing to learn. It is a huge advantage to have a player like him in any team."
"Osas" is proving that you could be young, rich and famous and still take a huge pride in wearing the green-white colours of Nigeria.