Stoke City striker Peter Odemwingie chats with Sulaiman Folarin about life at the Britannia Stadium, that bitter departure from West Brom, his World Cup hopes and Peter Crouch's dancing...
Stoke are in great form at the moment, but what's caused this upturn in fortunes?
It all comes from the demands of the manager, Mark Hughes. He has set targets for himself to break all the clubs records. To get that done, we all have to go 100% in every game. Of course the main target for every club on that level is to secure Premier League status for the next season. That’s been done, but he is really demanding that we don't relax right now and still give everything we can in the last six games. If we beat those records, that will be kind of a commitment for us going forward. It will also us to bring in one or two quality players in the summer to improve the performance in the Premier League again next season.
Why did you join Stoke City? And how come you're scoring more there than at Cardiff?
I knew it was the right place for me. Last summer, they really wanted me and were close to getting me. Mark Hughes is a good manager, and one that I’ve known for a while. A few of my friends played for him at Fulham and they spoke well about him. I thought the physical part of Stoke's game only creates chances for me. You have players here who can shield the ball and drop it off for me to do what I can do with it, which helps because I can easily find myself in a shooting position. They have good players who can pass the ball as well.
There is a bit more quality here than at Cardiff, and that's why I’ve been a bit more effective than in the previous six months. At Cardiff, I didn’t find myself in front of goal as often as I would wish. I don’t remember myself really missing chances for Cardiff; I think that’s one of the reasons why I’m here - now I find myself in front of goal or in shooting areas.
Stoke have been seen as a long-ball team for a few years now, but this season that seems to have changed; how have you found the playing style?
I’ve been impressed since I arrived. Yes, people do know Stoke for the old style of play, but last summer when I had a quick chat with the manager, he spoke about that; he wants to slowly introduce the new style. We’ve always had the big guys, we are one of the tallest teams in the league and in the past the team could effectively use those strengths and get the results it needed for survival in the Premier League, but now they want to mix it up.
We have players to do that; we have [Oussama] Assaidi on loan, he is injured but technically gifted. We have [Marko] Arnautovic, Stephen Ireland, [Steven] Nzonzi and [Charlie] Adam who all have great abilities and want to pass the ball. Mixing it up makes us more effective and unpredictable. It means we can hurt teams more.
What's your partnership with Peter Crouch like? Have you seen his dance moves yet?
His dance moves [laughs], I had seen them even before I arrived. Every now and then we have some jokes in the dressing room about it, but he is a great guy on and off the pitch and a big professional. He’s focused and very serious in every training session. He’s a concentrated guy and is a great example for young guys to follow.
Having Peter Crouch up there, you can link up really well on the floor and also gives the option sometimes when the pressure is on. You can knock the ball in the air and he will win those battles. He gets you scoring goals. He is a big part of the past couple of months' success. His creativity, ability to shield the ball and drop it off is great. He also scores, and that’s why he is our top goalscorer at the moment with 10.
What's Mark Hughes like to work under? What kind of things does he try and drill into the players?
He has a great scoring record. For that to happen you have to be a top professional and be demanding of yourself. He admires personality. When we have possession of the ball he asks you to be brave, to show personality. He wants you to try things and he encourages beautiful football. Look at his time at Manchester City - he brought in [Carlos] Tevez, Robinho and so on. You can tell he likes exciting players. At the same time, he is a British coach; he demands that you fight for the ball, and that can only bring out the best in a player.
The atmosphere at the training ground is relaxed; he is not a manager who shouts, he gets across what he wants done in a clear manner. The demand is still there - when he sees the fun is getting too much he knows when to switch things.
Who do you get on best with in the dressing room? Is Marko Arnautovic as mental as they say he is? Any stories?
[Laugh] Yes, we will use the word 'crazy' in a very positive way. He is very lively, filled with jokes and everybody loves him in the dressing room. He is a bit of a hot head sometimes, but everybody knows he is a good guy with a good heart and a very talented player. The dressing room at Stoke is really good. It’s a team with a lot of big guys who get physical in training sometimes, but in a positive way. It’s a fun place to be and very positive.
Who’s impressed you in the team most so far?
I can’t pick one player. Our performance has been outstanding as a team. I don’t think it’s easy to pick one player who has been fantastic. Look at Crouch, he has been scoring goals, Arnautovic has been brilliant and then scored and assisted three or four goals. Charlie Adam scored a fantastic winner against Manchester United. Our centre-backs [Marc] Wilson and [Ryan] Shawcross have been great. [Glenn] Whelan has been really hard-working and secured the ball for us. We really function as a unit now.
You'll play away to both of your previous two clubs, West Brom and Cardiff, before the end of the season; if you had to pick one to score against, which would it be?
That’s a very hard question. What I’m thinking about is my goalscoring record - it can be against anyone. If I can score against both clubs, it’s nothing personal. I have a job to do. I have to remain professional for Stoke City. It’s an emotional one - I can’t just say I will be happy to score against one or the other or both.
What happened at West Brom?
I have no hard feelings towards anyone at West Brom - I’m on good terms with most people there. People on the outside don’t know a lot of the things that happened in the West Brom dressing room - in reality, they have zero accusations towards me.
They cannot really accuse me of a single thing in the dressing room or in the club. The only specific thing people mention is the unauthorised interview outside of Loftus Road. Unauthorised? The club knew where I was, they knew everything, but it’s an incident I don’t want to talk about. I was even trying to protect the image of West Brom.
The people in the football family know everything. I had five offers in the summer from managers who did their homework. Not all the clubs wanted to do their business in public, especially after the QPR incident. There was a lot of interest in me but not everybody had the patience to deal with West Brom.
You haven't played for Nigeria since 2012 - have you thought about one last crack at international football this summer?
Of course, I’m available [smiles]. I’m getting very close to the end, but I'm not there yet [laughs]. I have more years in me for the Premier League and the quality is still there.
The question was never whether I wanted to play. Whenever invitations came, I answered the call and I happily accepted them. In Nigeria, we say “e get as e bi”, meaning 'that has to do with the situation'.
The approach was made and the coach and I have been talking for a few months now. In the end, you can't make all decisions when you're angry. I have let go of things from the past. It’s not a do-or-die matter. I’m taking things really easy - being a father and expecting a second son as well, things are different.
So how do you rate your chances of sneaking into Nigeria's World Cup squad for Brazil?
It’s not a question of whether I believe I will strengthen the team, I will be a useful player for the team, and I want to be there. It’s a team that has been doing well over the past year, but every team needs depth. The World Cup is about 23 players, not just 11. The matches come every three or four days, there can be injuries and other things.
I am 100% sure I would be a great addition to our national team in the World Cup. I’m in good form physically and psychologically. If there are any issues, I am ready to sit down and talk about them and iron things out.