Odemwingie: 'I acted out of anger about Nigeria... there are a lot of boring athletes who never say anything'
When Peter Odemwingie wasn't picked for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, it seemed his international career was over. It wasn't so much that the then-West Brom striker hadn't made the cut, but the Twitter rant that followed: "On my non-inclusion to the Eagles list I am not surprised," he fumed. "Not surprised Keshi and NFF couldn’t tell me themselves. No personality!"
Just over two years later, however, the in-form Stoke hitman could be back in the fold to help Nigeria's cause in Brazil this summer. The 32-year-old has made efforts to repair the bridges previously burned to cinders, and, as he tells FFT, believes he's got what it takes to make a difference...
So it seems you still want to play for Nigeria? One last ride into the sunset?
Of course, I’m available. I’m getting very close to the end, but I won’t say the end yet! I have some 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. Now in Nigeria we say “e get as e bi” meaning "that has to do with the situation".
Now the approach has been made and the coach and I have been talking for a few months now. At the end you can't make all decisions when you are 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, so things are easy.
You went on Twitter and expressed your displeasure when you weren't picked by Nigeria for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations. Honestly, did you think the team could win?
Yes, I felt so actually. Many people won’t know this, but most of my disappointment was because I had joined the Premier League and become a better player, so I felt that would be my best Nations Cup ahead of the other four that I had played in before.
I had a feeling we would win. Because with the other African countries, the level had dropped a little bit; they had switched from one generation to the other so it’s a bit slow. The level of football on the continent in general had gone down, but I felt we still had the players and talent to win it. I was happy we did, because in the end all we are looking for is to have a bit of banter with other African players in Europe when we meet each other.
When we were in the dressing room at West Brom, Youssouf Mulumbu and I talked and he would say "Nigeria are not the same". Now we can give it back to any player we meet since those bragging rights matter a lot. We all live far from home, so when we can give it back to them I say "Listen, we're still the best in Africa."
What's your relationship with Stephen Keshi like now? Is it better?
It’s fine. We’ve been speaking. We’re on good terms now. Last time I spoke with him was when he arrived in Nigeria. I heard he landed and I read your [FFT] piece with him. I called him and wished him all the best, because it will not be an easy period for him since he has raised the bar high and our fans have tasted success.
When I showed my dissatisfaction, I acted out of anger. The thing I asked for was a bit of recognition and some respect just to say to me "Peter, you are one of our players". They wanted to move on with younger players, that was a simple thing and they had every right to do that.
A phone call goes a long way. A few other players asked a for simple phone call too, like Joseph Yobo [of Norwich City] and top striker Emmanuel Emenike, because we are so far away from home and it makes us feel welcomed. I overreacted, especially with everything that was going on with West Brom before the January transfer saga.
Keshi and I talk now, thanks to Dr. Robinson Okosun [Nigeria's team psychologist]. He came to see me and said "Keshi has no hard feelings towards you as a person". I was happy to hear that because I didn’t know. Any player in the world with club or country would react in the same way, but the difference is that not everybody is on Twitter and not everybody unwinds there...
FFT asked Keshi in Atlanta about people saying you are stubborn. He says you haven’t been managed properly. What’s your take on that?
The pressure of being a public figure is enormous. It’s not easy playing in a big league like the Premier League, or playing for a big country like Nigeria. Your job is being criticised and nitpicked. The word stubborn in Nigeria is looked at in a different light. You have your demands, which you need to make to be the best at your job. It is creating an environment where you feel you can be the best.
When people talk about discipline, in reality in football, discipline is what you do on the pitch. Everything else – what you do in the media – is all about people’s opinions. We are all different... there are no angels in the game. As stubborn as many people say players like Zlatan [Ibrahimovic] or Mario [Balotelli] are, they are big players. There are things about Messi that people don’t know.
The discipline in sport is what you do on the pitch. An indisciplined player is one who comes to training late all the time, gets red cards all the time. All the things off the pitch are about your personality, and you can't please everyone. Things don’t have to be taken personally. There are a lot of boring athletes that never say anything.
The fans want to know you more than just being a footballer. If you’re someone who says "I will never say anything or give anything" and never show yourself outside of football, you’re not giving back to football and society.
So you and Keshi discussed coming back to the national team then?
Yes, we spoke about that. I did declare myself available and he didn’t say it's not a possibility. He's happy I am doing well.
The one thing I really like about him is that he keeps emphasising the importance of the team. It’s always about what’s best for the team and sometimes I will need to accept things.
He gave me an example of [John Obi] Mikel, how things went in the beginning. If he always says it’s about the team then it’s a good way to look at it, because it is a collective sport.
How do you rate your chances of sneaking into Nigeria's World Cup squad for Brazil then?
It’s not a question of whether I believe I will strengthen the team. I will be a useful player for the team, I want to be there. It’s a team that is doing well and has done well over the past year.
Every team needs depth. It’s a tournament and it’s about 23 players. It’s not about 11 players because the matches come every three or four days, and there can be injuries and other things.
I am 100% sure I will 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, talk about them and iron things out.