Odemwingie impact rivalled only by smile
It was Jan, 22, 2014, when I received a note telling me that Stoke were trying to sign Peter Odemwingie; the Potters had just lost to Crystal Palace and fans weren’t entirely enamoured of the prospect of a 32-year-old being the answer to the problems in front of goal when I shared the news via Twitter.
The response to my Tweet cascading that information was almost unanimously against the signing of a player widely ridiculed for his antics in transfer windows past. His ill-advised foray to Loftus Road was well covered, documented and mocked by the footballing community but it was clear that he had been assured a deal was close. I for one welcomed the prospect of his signing -- prior to his move to Cardiff I knew that Stoke had been keen to sign him and the opportunity to rid the club of a disinterested and ineffective Kenwyne Jones and bring in a player the new manager had long since been keen on was enough to convince me it could well prove a shrewd move.
There was nothing to lose; Jones had made it clear how he felt and his decision to not play against Liverpool meant that he was unlikely to play again for Stoke, especially with his deal running down. Odemwingie, on the other hand, had a point to prove and having a record of better than one goal every three games at West Brom, he was quite simply a proven Premier League goal scorer. There was also the added incentive of it being a World Cup year, quite possibly the last opportunity for him to showcase his talents in the competition for his country, Nigeria.
It came as little surprise that he was handed his debut immediately in the next match against Sunderland and his impact was immediate. Many fans were surprised at his pace and work rate in an unfamiliar right-sided role. His ability on the ball was a breath of fresh air, his confidence in possession a world away from the previous incumbent Jon Walters and for the first time this season Stoke looked a threat down their right side. That game unfortunately ended in defeat, though, after the Potters were reduced to ten men -- although they rallied manfully and dominated their hosts with their intelligent and incisive play.
Odemwingie’s willingness to help out his right-back is admirable and puts firmly to bed the concept that options for that position have to be either defensively or offensively sound when in fact they can be both. He has gone from strength to strength and "Osaze" himself has simply shone in a side so bereft of pace and skill in the final third for so long.
His impact is rivalled only by his smile as he revels at the prospect of once again being a crowd favourite, acknowledging every tune sung in his name. His chance conversion rate is impressive too, among the best in the league, and for the first time since the side’s promotion to the top flight I’m confident that when a chance presents itself that he will more often than not, or that he will at least work the goalkeeper. Such prowess in front of goal coupled with his relatively diminutive build has drawn comparisons from some quarters to Stoke legend Mark Stein, and if a player is being likened to “the Golden One” they’re doing well.
He may not have been a lot of fans’ first choice for a striker but for me it shows that by simply introducing some of the attributes that Mark Hughes’ system needs to tick the difference is like night and day. The idea that things will only get better as the manager seeks to introduce better-suited players to other areas of the pitch is something that should genuinely excite the fans as they look toward the summer transfer window.