Nathan Oduwa featured twice against Wednesday’s opponents NK Celje during his time at Olimpija Ljubljana and was a winner on both occasions. Now he is hoping to make it three in-a-row when Dundalk take on the Slovenian champions in Hungary on Wednesday.
The 24-year-old Englishman made 22 appearances during a 17 month spell in Slovenia from February 2017 to July 2018.
That included two matches against Celje – a 3-1 win in which he popped up with an assist on the opening game of the 2017/18 campaign and a 2-1 win when he last went head to head with them in February 2018.
While Oduwa describes Celje as a “bogey side” for Olimpija, they in fact never lost to Dusan Kosic’s side during his time there – drawing three of the other league matches against them that he didn’t feature in and beating them over two legs in the Cup.
Nevertheless, the former Tottenham Hotspur winger saw enough of Celje during his time there to know that they cannot be taken lightly on Wednesday.
“Not a lot of people know about the Slovenian league other than maybe a little bit about Maribor, who usually dominate the league.
“The team who we have been drawn against were kind of like a bogey team for the team I played with in Slovenia.
“They’re a very good side technically and like to keep the ball. They can’t be underestimated but if we work hard and regroup as a team then I’m sure we’ll have no problems.”
Oduwa featured for the second half of Friday’s 2-2 draw with Waterford FC at Oriel Park and made a good impression on the whole. While the result was not what Dundalk wanted, he is hoping he has done enough to force his way into Vinny Perth’s thoughts for Wednesday.
“Personally, it was good to get minutes. I’m happy to be out on the field but obviously the team is not really in a great spot at the minute.
“We’ll look at ourselves in the mirror, regroup and go again tomorrow though.
“Dundalk are such a big club in this league so to be drawing and dropping points is not good but all I can do is try to look at it as an opportunity.”
Oduwa is also hopeful that the spirit showed in fighting back to gain a point on Friday can be a turning point for the side after a difficult restart to the league.
“100%. One point is better than no points. It’s just a shame that we couldn’t get all three points towards the end but it gives us something to build on.
“It shows we’ve got good fighting spirit to come back and we’ll be ready for Wednesday,” he said.
Every day is like Christmas Day at the moment for Nathan Oduwa. Only that’s not necessarily a good thing.
Dundalk’s newest signing only put pen to paper on a new deal at Oriel Park on March 10th – two days before the country began going into lockdown to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Pretty much since the club’s game 24 hours later against St Patrick’s Athletic was called off, he has been back home in London with his mum and brother.
Oduwa lives right in the heart of the English capital on Tottenham Court Road. For those unfamiliar with the area, it is a significant shopping street which is also home to the Dominion Theatre, the 33 storey Centre Point building and one of London’s busiest underground stations which had 41.33 million entry and exit visitors annually in 2017.
From the junction at which the station emerges onto the street, there is the hustle and bustle of Oxford Street in one direction, the delights of Soho in another and Leicester Square in another. That’s not to mention a host of hotels, pubs, restaurants, theatres, cinemas, museums and other major tourist attractions nearby.
Hundreds of thousands visit there every day. Thousands more work there.
And yet these days it is empty – a sign of where the world is at as it battles to overcome the unprecedented threat of the Coronavirus.
The ongoing pandemic has disrupted millions of people’s plans globally. For the 24-year-old Oduwa, it has prevented him from getting a once hugely promising career back on track in the League of Ireland.
The winger might have spent less than a week in Dundalk in total so far but he felt he was settling in well.
He explained how his move came about: “I came over for a day and trained at the start of March. I did quite well in training and they were very interested in me. At that point they didn’t actually want me to go back home but I didn’t have enough clothes with me so I went back home. We spoke about the contract at that stage and once that was all sorted, I came back over about three or four days later and signed.
“I had been living with four other lads and felt I had been settling in well. I knew Sean Murray already and felt I was doing well in training but now it has all stopped basically.”
The former Tottenham Hotspur trainee said he did not know if he would have been involved in the first game after his signing against St Patrick’s Athletic – originally planned for March 13th – but was part of the group who were taking part in a video analysis session the day before the game when news broke of the game being called off.
He admitted it was a huge blow to him personally.
“I haven’t played for a while so I was really looking forward to at least being on a bench or back in a squad again,” he said.
“I know this league has only started so it would have been a decent place for me to start getting a run of games again as opposed to me playing in a league in the UK or somewhere where their season is coming to an end.
“It’s just a shame that the Coronavirus started to get worse as I signed at Dundalk because I’m looking forward to just playing a load of games. From what I gather the team normally play up to 60 games a season because they’ve got Champions League qualification as well so I was looking forward to being involved in all that.”
Capped for England at U-17, U-18 and U-20 level, Oduwa changed allegiance in 2016 when he won four caps for the Nigeria U-23 team. It’s fair to say his early promise hasn’t yet been realised though.
Loan spells while still at White Hart Lane to Luton Town, Rangers, Colchester United and Peterborough Utd, saw initial promise fizzle out.
Having been released by Spurs having failed to make a first team appearance in early 2017, Oduwa’s journeyed career took him to Olimpija Ljubljana in Slovenia where he made 22 appearances before having his contract mutually terminated in the summer of 2018. After that there were brief and ultimately unsuccessful stints at Danish side Vejle Boldklub, where he played alongside Murray, and in Israel at Hapoel Hadera.
By his own admission, Oduwa made a few wrong career choices but he feels the League of Ireland is the right place for him to be to get his career back on track.
“I don’t regret going abroad but when you do it can be hard to settle in terms of the language barrier and culture etc. At least in Dundalk, I speak the language and the team seem to play a brand of football that will suit my game.
“Obviously coming here, I want to win things. I’d love to win a league and qualify for the likes of the Europa League group stages like a few of the boys did a few years ago but on a personal level it would be great just to play 40 or 50 games this season.
“That’s something that I haven’t been able to do in my career yet but if I manage it here it means I’ll be playing well and that’s what I want. To play well and enjoy football again.”
That desire to do well has only been strengthened by the current Covid-19 pandemic.
“I live on Tottenham Court Road and it’s deserted at the moment. It’s like Christmas Day every day.
“I’ve actually just come in from a 5km run and it’s still a bit surreal to see the streets so empty.
“I suppose the good thing is that me and my family are fine. Bar trying to stay fit, I’ve just been quarantining with them to he honest.
“It’s not what I’d have expected to be doing after signing for a new club but the way it has all come about has been a strange one for the whole world to be honest.
“It’s in these moments that you really appreciate being able to go outside and things like sport and football.”
The novelty of Christmas Day on Tottenham Court Road every day might be wearing off for Oduwa but for a man who lives just around the corner from London’s West End, he is looking forward to putting on a show of his own for Dundalk supporters who have yet to see him in action yet.
“Anyone who has seen my videos and knows how I like to play knows I like to get the ball and run at people. I like to play with freedom and to express myself for the good of the team.
“I suppose you could say I like to entertain and I can’t wait to be able to do that.
“All we can do right now is stay at home and stay safe but I just can’t wait for the call to say the league is back on so I can book my flight back to Ireland.”
When that comes, be it ahead of the expected June 19th return date or after, it really will feel like Christmas for Oduwa, Dundalk FC and all football fans.