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Chiedozie Ogbene interview: ‘Stephen Kenny built a strong foundation for the future of Ireland football’

Ireland and Luton winger happy to acknowledge the role international football played in his top-flight breakthrough: ‘I am ready for the Premier League’

On a joyous occasion inside the last old world Premier League ground, an Irishman tortured Crystal Palace right-back Joel Ward, before switching wings later on to send a pinpoint, low cross for Jacob Brown’s historic winner.

The goal gave Luton Town their first top flight home victory in 31 years, since beating Aston Villa on April 25th, 1992. As “Chieo, Chieo, Chieo” rang around Kenilworth Road on Saturday evening, it became apparent that the 26-year-old has become a firm favourite with the home crowd.

Chiedozie Ogbene wears it well.

The Hatters faithful saved a special chant for departing Palace players and fans, singing “you’re f**king sh*t” until they were hoarse.


Later, an understandably glum Dean Kiely sped through the Kenilworth Road reception area. The Palace goalkeeping coach has a lighter workload now, having been part of the Ireland coaching staff relieved of duties after Stephen Kenny parted company with the FAI.

On hearing the news, Ogbene contacted Kenny to say thanks for capping him in Hungary two years ago. After his best moment in club football, he found time to highlight the ex-Ireland manager’s legacy.

“Steve Kenny and his team have built a strong foundation for the future of Ireland football,” says Ogbene. “What they have done in the past few years was phenomenal. They have changed the philosophy, the mentality of the system. They obviously brought me and a lot of young players in. These players now have a bright future for Ireland. That’s [a] credit to him and his vision.”

“Did you mention the cross, Chieo?” asks a passing teammate. “Tell them how fast you are, Cheio” says another, as Luton staff, players and their families streamed from the cosy Kenilworth confines in ebullient form.

“He’s a proud Irish man,” Ogbene continues of Kenny. “I spoke to him and he is happy with the legacy he has left.”

Ogbene’s career has come on in bounding leaps, from obscurity at Cork City, through steeling himself in the third tier of English football and now to his Premier League breakthrough. The rise, he is certain, was hastened by exposure to international football.

“I haven’t been surprised at all,” he says of the Luton crowd embracing him. “Two years ago my agent [Glenn Corcoran] asked me if I was ready for the Premier League and I said “no”. After two years of international football he asked me the same question and I said “yes, I am ready for the Premier League”.

“Playing international football is the highest level of football and I was playing that for two years so when I came to the Premier League, yes, I was proud of myself for being here, but I had earned respect, having played against countries like France, Belgium and Portugal.

“It meant that I could come in with confidence, not arrogance, that I am not just here to get a chance, I am here because I worked my way up. I am getting the reward that I deserve. When I play at this level, I try to embrace it and play with confidence.”

The plastic pitch at Kenilworth Road is long gone. Known locally as “The Kenny”, the three-sided wooden sands were built in 1905, which explains last summer’s £10 million makeover to construct a metallic gantry that brings the ground up to Premier League broadcast standards.

Underground, it remains a wonderfully out-dated maze, with punters entering through an arch in the red brick rows, similar to Richmond Park and Dalymount. Visiting fans can see into back gardens on Oak Road as they sample the last days of Kenilworth before a move to Power Court in 2026.

“Irish Times,” observed the gate keeper, “you going to bring Lu’on luck?”

Possibly. Ogbene missed Ireland’s defeat in Amsterdam with hamstring and ankle issues, so it was a stroke of luck to see his name on the team-sheet at 2pm.

Luton needs some luck, their failure to win a home game so far in five attempts putting manager Rob Edwards under severe pressure.

“I am very proud of my younger self,” he says of the journey from Nemo Rangers to Bedfordshire. “There was a bit of adversity getting to where I am now. I remember leaving Brentford to go to Rotherham, a lot people said it was a big mistake, ‘why are you leaving a Championship club to go to League One?’

“These were risks I took and I am so happy I took those risks, so I might as well embrace it and enjoy every moment.”

Nine minutes into the game and a season ticket holder gasps, “Look at his speed!” Palace are forced to treble up to protect Ward’s flank, which encourages Ogbene to clip crosses with his weaker left foot.

Unplayable so far this season – as Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold can attest – the next Ireland manager might see value in playing him top of the left side in a 3-4-3.

“I am really enjoying it on the left. When I am running at defenders I can go both ways, inside or go on the outside and clip it in back post with my left.

“It lets me be more efficient in terms of taking people on, because knowing you can go either side puts more fear into the defenders. But it is a position I like and I work on, as well as the right, as you seen today.

“Later in the game the gaffer put me on the right and it is more natural for me as I can put balls in the box early. I work on my left foot, it is good to be versatile in this way. I get the trust of the manager...and I get to stay on the pitch a bit longer.”

“[The left] is a position I still want to master. I am not scoring enough goals. I want to add to my tally.”

On the hour mark, Kenilworth came alive when Ogbene nut-megged Ward and tore up the turf. Cheick Doucouré offered the ultimate compliment by upending him.

The game was a ferocious affair that required 13 minutes of injury time, as the width of the post denied Palace’s Naouirou Ahamada a 103rd-minute equaliser. Earlier, there was a contender for goal of the season from Michael Olise, who stormed in off the right flank left to bend a shot past Belgian goalkeeper Thomas Kaminski, rubbing out Luton’s first goal by Teden Mengi inside 90 seconds.

Edwards looked to the heavens for what seemed an eternity. Three crucial points were slipping away again, it seemed. But the gaffer was about to pull off a masterstroke.

Ogbene shifted to right wing-back. On 79 minutes Ross Barkley turned and sprayed a ball into space. Ogbene collected and curved a delicious early cross across the six-yard box for Browne to toe-poke home.

The ancient stands shake so much it feels like they will splinter.

Ogbene is not a full winter at Luton yet they already sing his name. His light touch and sprinter’s pace make him an instant hero. And officially the quickest, according to the Premier League.

“I keep saying and I am not being modest with this, but there are other players in the Premier League who haven’t had a chance to open up. I am fortunate that I have opened up and my time was clocked the fastest.

“There are some Man City players, maybe because they are so dominant, they don’t need to open up. I don’t walk around saying I am the fastest player. Yes, I know I am gifted with pace and I try to use it every way I can in games. But I don’t just have pace, I work to maintain my pace, you have to work on your strengths and not just your weaknesses, to make sure it is the best I can be. It is good that I get recognition for it.”

His brother Koadchima is a competitive sprinter and they do speed work together in the summer months back in Cork.

“I am faster than my brother! He says no, but I say yes.”

Either way, the rise and rise of Chiedozie Ogbene continues apace.