Peter Odemwingie, a mystery injury, the England manager and the bizarre Deadline Day transfer saga that ended in farce
Simon Hart reports on what lies behind the comedy of errors at Loftus Road
Sunday 03 February 2013
Whatever else Peter Odemwingie does on a football pitch, he will be forever known for one thing: as the man who turned up to sign for a new club but failed even to get through the front door. Thursday evening's bizarre events at Loftus Road was the biggest story of the week in English football and – with the help of Sky Sports News and Twitter – gave us a very modern morality tale.
On a typically overhyped deadline day, it was the transfer that did not happen which left Odemwingie – the West Bromwich Albion striker born in Tashkent to a Nigerian father and Russian mother – as the villain of this 21st-century piece and the butt of a good few jokes too; Arsenal's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain tweeted: "Does Odemwingie need a place to stay tonight?"
On the surface, this is a simple narrative with the satisfying conclusion of an apparently greedy and badly advised footballer not getting things his own way. Yet there is more to it than that; it is the story of a player with a history of fall-outs, a long-standing grudge involving Roy Hodgson, the England manager, and a mystery injury.
It was just after 8pm on Thursday that Odemwingie drove up to Loftus Road and spoke to the Sky Sports reporter outside. In his mind, Queens Park Rangers were already "us", yet West Bromwich had other ideas and quickly issued a statement stressing that he had not received permission to speak to the London club. Rangers had to turn the player away.
The rest is now history. Albion's chairman, Jeremy Peace, a tough negotiator, reproached Odemwingie for having "acted wholly unprofessionally", and with the QPR winger Junior Hoilett's refusal to move in the opposite direction, the deal was dead. A brief meeting with Albion's manager, Steve Clarke, and board members Dan Ashworth and Richard Garlick on Friday morning led to the player being ordered to stay away from the Hawthorns when the team host Tottenham this lunchtime. He was already facing a two-week fine for criticising the club on Twitter after seeing two QPR bids rejected and his own transfer request refused.
As the saga simmered, Odem-wingie provided frank tweets which, pieced together, show what really lay behind the intriguing saga. It had not been an easy month for him. His newborn son, Noah, and wife, Sarah, were in hospital for more than a week after the birth and he missed last Wednesday's defeat at Everton on compassionate leave, yet the 31-year-old made no secret of his wish for one last big payday.
"I have served the club well and deserve at least to have a prise [price tag] now so I can plan my probably last move in England," he tweeted last weekend.
Odemwingie's 15 goals in his first Premier League season had earned him an improved contract in 2011 exceeding £30,000 a week. Yet it is believed he would have picked up at least £45,000 and a three-year contract at Loftus Road, so his willingness to forego bonuses worth £300,000 from Albion made economic sense.
But for Odemwingie, another factor was key: namely a disagreement with Hodgson, when he was West Bromwich's manager, over a knee injury. "I can understand the reaction of [a] few Albion fans on my desire to leave the club. Real reason? Cos [sic] they once doubted my commitment," he said. Clarke touched on this on Friday, explaining there were "not footballing reasons" dating back from "before my time".
Odemwingie's tensions with Hodgson had come to the fore in November 2011, when the manager expressed his frustration over the Nigerian's month-long absence. "I'm frustrated because we've got nothing out of him this year," said Hodgson, coincidentally before another home fixture with Tottenham. "Peter is difficult to work out – you'd have to speak to the doctor about him," he added, giving voice to a feeling within the club that Odemwingie's problem might actually be in his head. The player responded by tweeting a photo of the fluid on his knee, and still carries a grudge.
That is no surprise to another of his previous managers, Lars Lagerback, the Swede who coached him during Nigeria's 2010 World Cup campaign. Lagerback told The Independent on Sunday: "In general he is a very positive person, always has a smile on his face. He loves his football. But if you look [at] his career, he's been in trouble as soon as things don't go his way. He has a problem handling that, I think.
"In general for me he was no big problem until I substituted him against Greece in the World Cup. He was very disappointed. He was negative [in the press] against me."
This habit of lashing out continued with his criticism of the current Nigeria coach, Stephen Keshi, after his exclusion from this year's Africa Cup of Nations finals.
Odemwingie acknowledged his own rashness in another tweet on 26 January: "Adviser text saying don't tweet, it weakens our position. Doesn't weaken nothing! When I want to do something, I Do It."
Grudge or not, what clearly appealed to him was the prospect of working with Harry Redknapp, a manager prepared to forget about any injury concerns, imagined or otherwise. ''Best compliment I have ever received in my [career] as a player, manager like HR spending to bring me for mission 'impossible'."
He was so determined to sign up for the relegation battle that he said thank you to staff at Albion's training ground after lunch on Thursday and headed off in the expectation of his transfer going through. It is not difficult to understand why he travelled to London – even his manager admitted a £3.5 million deal had looked likely – but his big mistake was being caught on camera turning up at the stadium. Discreet phone calls are more the norm in these situations.
So what next? On Friday, Clarke suggested there might be a way back, though the remorse he said the player had shown was not entirely obvious as Odemwingie declared: "I will still leave the club. It is only a matter of time." Yesterday he was back on Twitter, promising the "full story" would come out soon.
Dateline chaos: How it all unfolded...
12 Jan "We made an enquiry for Odemwingie. I don't know whether [chief executive] Phillip Beard has put an offer in but he was a player we spoke about." Manager Harry Redknapp's first mention of QPR's interest
16 Jan Odemwingie is a 72nd- minute substitute as West Bromwich lose 1-0 at home to QPR. Redknapp says he put in an offer which was turned down
19 Jan "I've spoken to Peter, there was interest from QPR. Harry told everybody! It doesn't unsettle good professionals, though. They understand that when it gets to January, it's silly season." West Bromwich manager Steve Clarke
"Baby Noah was born 5.30 this morning and he says hi to everyone! Couldn't wait any longer cos wanted to celebrate his daddy's goal!" Odemwingie tweet
24 Jan Albion say that Odemwingie will be staying at the club. The following day, the player submits a transfer request
26 JanOdemwingie fires off a series of tweets: "I can understand the reaction of few Albion fans on my desire to leave the club. Real reason? Cos they once doubted my commitment. Want to know why I wanted to quit top flight football last summer earlier than I wished to? They know at the club. I better leave on a good note. Best compliment I have ever received in my (career) as a player, manager like HR (Harry Redknapp) spending to bring me for mission 'impossible'."
"Adviser text saying don't tweet, it weakens our position. Doesn't weaken nothing ! When I want to do something, I Do It"
"Offer came [from QPR], everybody knows. I ask club what they think? Answer – not now. Maybe summer. I ask – or is it tactics to get more money? Answer– we have enough now there is no prise [price tag] for you. We need you. I say ok. What's the price for summer? We will tell you after the window closes. Last season January window is when I should have handed in transfer request. Was one foot in Rubin Kazan – not for sale. Fulham. Not for sale. Newcastle. Not for sale. Wigan. Not for sale."
27 Jan "Looked through my tweets. Deleted some. Was too much. Only excuses – home alone, dark, son and wife in hospital, frustrated."
28 Jan Albion reject a second, improved offer from QPR. "It's a bit of a difficult situation for West Brom. It's not worked out in an ideal way. The whole situation has become a bit too public really, hasn't it? Too many people get involved in Twitter." Harry Redknapp
31 Jan "Things are getting worse or funnier. Some say any press is good. Never seen anyone who will want this kind off press hahaha it's not funny!" Odemwingie tweet
"I hope they will be happy with what they get and, of course, they want to get in players themselves. I just hope that everything will be sorted out in the next few hours."
Odemwingie to Sky Sports News after driving to QPR's ground
"Peter has acted wholly unprofessionally. He must now accept the fact that he remains under contract for a further 18 months. In the end the matter became a point of principle as much as anything."
Albion chairman Jeremy Peace
1 Feb "I understand the club to be honest, it was a bit unprofessional but we all know our positions and we were almost there. I understand I have to honour any contract but the club know I have wanted to leave for some time now."
"The whole thing was a bit of a mess. I felt genuinely sorry for him. I think there was a mistake. He has to go back to West Brom and get on with his life."
"It was total lunacy." Clarke
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