Soon after Peter Odemwingie left Lokomotiv Moscow, racist Russian fans unfurled a banner thanking West Bromwich Albion for taking him off their hands. An image of a banana was intended to brand the Nigeria striker a monkey, but after the derby triumph over Aston Villa he revealed how being called an animal changed his life for the better.
It happened when Odemwingie, struggling to maintain his early scoring form for Albion, consulted a sports psychologist at the behest of Roberto Di Matteo. The former head coach, whose replacement by Roy Hodgson has seen the team collect 16 points from nine games and avoid their customary slide back into the Championship, had noticed that, in the words of £2.5m signing, he was "a bit down".
"The psychologist showed me an image of a running cheetah," said Odemwingie. "He said that when I run, he sees that in me; that I change direction and I'm quick. The thing is that cheetahs have the belief in their speed and quality to catch [their prey]. That means when they lose one they're not scared because they're going to get the next one. He said 'put that in your mind and don't be too worried about a lost chance'.
"He was trying to make me forget about missed chances and bring out the instinct. He said I was a player who does better using instinct, playing naturally, than by thinking. That week I had a chance to seal the game and I missed, but in the next match I scored a last-minute winner against Blackpool."
Uzbekistan-born Odemwingie had scant time to think before burying a ball flying around the Villa penalty area. His 14th Premier League goal – more than Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez, Didier Drogba or Fernando Torres – cancelled out Abdoulaye Méïté's own goal. It also gave Albion the belief to go on and beat Villa for the first time in 18 attempts since 1985, even after Paul Scharner's 62nd-minute dismissal.
When he awoke on Saturday, Odemwingie's body "felt good"; he had "speed in my legs". Soon, however, his condition prompted referee Phil Dowd to ask if he needed the doctor. "I don't know where my energy went. I was trying my run but didn't have much. I was completely dehydrated and every five minutes I ran to drink water."
Villa's defenders labelled Odem-wingie a cheat rather than a cheetah after what they saw as his attempts to con Dowd into giving a penalty. The winner came from another African, Congolese midfielder Yossouf Mulumbu, who is more of a rampaging rhino. The victory allowed Hodgson to cite Fulham and Stoke as examples of the progress he covets, yet he also reflected on Gérard Houllier's enforced absence from Villa's dugout.
"I'm 64 this summer and not foolish enough to think that what happened to Gérard couldn't happen to me," he said. "We work hard as managers and put in long hours but we're well rewarded so this isn't a complaint. I'm happy to keep soldiering on day-to-day."
Man of match Odemwingie.
Referee P Dowd (Staffordshire)
Att 25,889.Reuse content