Rio Ferdinand comparisons swirl around Andrew Omobamidele

Young Norwich defender and Leixlip native has earned a call-up to Ireland’s senior squad

 Andrew Omobamidele in action for the Republic of Ireland U-21s against Wales in Wrexham. He has now been called up by  Stephen Kenny   senior squad. Photograph: Andrew Dowling/Inpho

Andrew Omobamidele in action for the Republic of Ireland U-21s against Wales in Wrexham. He has now been called up by Stephen Kenny senior squad. Photograph: Andrew Dowling/Inpho

 

It is nothing short of irresponsible to overhype an 18-year-old athlete. Even considering the one-way ticket Andrew Omobamidele just booked to play Premier League football with Norwich City next season.

Even when Stephen Kenny explains the teenager’s call-up for June friendlies in Andorra and Hungary was down to the Republic of Ireland manager witnessing an “extremely composed and extremely athletic” centre half.

A far too easy comparison to Rio Ferdinand has already been made. That implies the Leixlip native, born to a Nigerian father and Irish mother, can ignite Ireland’s possession-based philosophy better than anyone else in the current senior squad.

“Probably my earliest memory of a centre half is Rio Ferdinand,” said Omobamidele with a casualness in media exchanges that belies his youth. “Still to this day he’s one of my role models.

“I could pick so many because when I watch games it doesn’t really matter who’s playing, I kind of just take little bits off the centre backs, and just see what they’re doing well.

Liverpool-bound Ibrahima Konaté and his fellow Leipzig stopper Dayot Upamecano receive particular praise along with Rúben Dias who “just went into the [Manchester] City side and basically took over the defence”.

“I do my best to kind of just nitpick and soak up all of them.”

Sounds like he consumes the art of defending as much as he is lives it. All that osmosis is paying off.

“The players around me have helped a lot,” Omobamidele explained at the launch of the Intersport Elverys FAI summer schools programme.

“In my first start against Preston, Grant Hanley [the Scottish defender] was giving me that bit of experience and just calming me down a little bit, giving me that responsibility as I’m playing beside him.

“That’s kind of what I need personally. I’d rather be given responsibility to play rather than being coached through the whole game, if that makes sense.”

It does.

Omobamidele was describing his man-of-the-match performance in a 1-1 draw with Preston North End back in February. An injury crisis provided the 6ft 2in boy with an opportunity to play amongst men. Now he is poised to partner Shane Duffy or Dara O’Shea or both in an Irish defence desperately in need of what he offers.

“Really proud moment for me and my family, and Leixlip as a community,” he said of the call-up for training camp in Girona. “Being born and raised in Ireland, it’s a dream to be playing with the senior team.

Good time

“It was a bit overwhelming as I didn’t know the number. I said ‘who is this’ and he said Stephen Kenny.”

Omobamidele has never been inside the Aviva Stadium, he’s never even played in front of a packed Carrow Road, and yet the elite football world is opening up before him.

“Momentum in football is so important and I’ve just come off the back of a really good time with Norwich, lifting the trophy and being promoted. Hopefully I can take that into the camp and be successful there.”

Omobamidele speaks the same way he plays, in a reassuring unfussy manner. When asked about the recent focus on alleged racial profiling by An Garda Síochána, particularly in the Blanchardstown area, and the racist abuse young black Irish footballers are exposed to, as covered by BBC Newsnight and Claire Byrne Live on RTÉ, he expressed a nuanced perspective.

“There wasn’t a lot of it in Leixlip. Obviously you hear all these stories about places like Blanchardstown, which is always bad [to hear], and the craziness that is happening in America. I’d say now there is no real problem and most of the time they are just doing their job.

“Obviously, you get the odd time when there is racial profiling. You cannot hide from that because it is true and it is there in plain sight.”

The Republic of Ireland squad will not feel like an alien environment as two other hugely promising footballers with Nigerian parents will be alongside him. Adam Idah is a teammate at Norwich while Manchester City goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu has been a vocal presence in his career since their shared time in the Dublin District Schoolboys team “back in the day”.

Not that it really matters.

“It definitely helps if you know two or three of the lads but I think if I came in and didn’t know any of the lads that I would settle in.”

Speaking of back in the day, what does he remember of Ireland matches growing up?

Shane Long scoring against Germany is probably the best, I remember watching that with my family. That’s the first memory that jumps out in my mind.”

Feels like a lifetime ago.

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