Chiedozie Ogbene grew up trying to imitate Cristiano Ronaldo and is now poised to bring his direct brand of football to the international stage with the Republic of Ireland.
The 24-year-old Rotherham winger idolised the then Manchester United star when he was growing up in Cork and tried to model himself on a man who has since established himself as one of world football’s greats.
Ogbene is currently with Ireland at their end-of-season training camp in Spain having received a first senior call-up from manager Stephen Kenny, and he is relishing the opportunity to show what he has learned on a bigger stage.
He said: “Being a winger and watching Ronaldo during the 2008 time at Manchester United, how direct he was and his dribbling abilities, I tried to imitate [and model] myself on Cristiano Ronaldo. He was my idol, really.
“My managers always told me that I had the pace and if I could work on my decision-making and dribbling and get my crossing right, I could have a very good career, so obviously he was one of the players I looked up to. I really enjoyed watched him and he was exciting.
“That’s what I try to base my game around, being very direct and creating problems and creating chances for my team-mates.”
Ogbene was born in Nigeria, but raised in Cork, where he played League of Ireland football for Cork City and Limerick before heading for England with Brentford and then the Millers.
A serious knee injury prevented him playing the role he would have liked in his club’s ultimately unsuccessful battle to remain in the Sky Bet Championship this season, and his selection for the senior squad has come as a major boost.
He said: “International football is something I’ve dreamed about and to be here with the Republic of Ireland is truly a blessing.
“It’s been a tough season, so to be here, especially with the players at the manager’s disposal, it’s an honour for me and my family and I’m going to relish the occasion.”
Ogbene was seven years old when his family arrived in Ireland and could also have represented the land of his birth, but he is happy to be blazing a trail for players who have made the country their home.
He said: “I’m sure there are many players who grew up in Ireland and were born somewhere else and are obviously having trouble with their decision. I want to create a pathway for them to show that if you live there, you get these opportunities.”
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