For Premier League fans everywhere, last year there was only one name synonymous with West Bromich Albion: Peter Odemwingie. Upon arrival from Spartak Moscow, it was clear that the Nigerian was prepared to deliver the goods; the striker became an instant fan favorite after scoring a winning goal on his debut against Sunderland.
From then on, Odemwingie went from strength to strength, eventually finishing the season as the League’s top African scorer. Tallies against relegation rivals like Blackpool, Wigan, West Ham and Newcastle were complemented by bonus strikes against the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham; a glut of goals crucial to West Brom’s eleventh place finish.
Perhaps the main beneficiary of Odemwingie’s fine form was not the man who brought him into the club (Roberto Di Matteo was sacked mid season) but his successor, Liverpool flop Roy Hodgson. Badly in need of a reputation boosting finish to the season, Hodgson must have been grateful at finding a striker in such good form; the Englishman had surely grown sick of answering questions about certain low scoring Spanish strikers with the last name of Torres.
Roy Hodgson exited Liverpool before having to handle the Fernando Torres exit saga, but his escape from the pleading and begging needed to keep top players in place will be short lived. This summer is likely to be a chastening one for Hodgson and the West Brom board. No doubt, there have already been offers for Odemwingie, after all West Brom are one of the smaller clubs in the Premier League, while Odemwingie is one of the division’s higher profile players. Linked to bids for his services have been the usual suspects, transfer players like Chelsea and Tottenham never seem to be far away from signing the league’s latest hot property. However, English bidders could be the least of Hodgson’s worries. If a teams such as AC Milan or Juventus came in with a big money bid, Odemwingie’s head might just start to turn. Without meaning to disrespect West Brom, they are by no means as attractive a destination as a Champions League heavyweight like AC Milan. Allegri’s team wield footballing prowess as well as money. Two factors which will assist in wooing Odemwingie away.
What West Brom really must avoid regarding the Odemwingie transfer is poor timing; too many clubs have stalled on selling key players, resulting in a shortage of time to organize the purchase of a replacement. In 2008, Tottenham let Dimitar Berbatov go on the final day of the transfer window, a move which cost them dear, as the club slumped to an unimpressive eighth place finish.
I’m sure Hodgson would bite your hand off if you offered him eighth place now, though even if Odemwingie is retained that may be a bridge too far. At the moment, the main concern for Hodgson should be the potential of a slump down the table. After all, Birmingham finished ninth last campaign only to be relegated three weeks ago.
The fear of a plunge down the standings will be a very realistic one if the Baggies let their prize asset go. Clubs in their position are often unable to rebuild at sufficient speed to compensate for the loss of key players. Needless to say, Birmingham’s is a fate Hodgson will be keen to avoid, making the prospect of talks with Odemwingie all the more important. Hodgson will be crossing his fingers that the Nigerian proves eager to stay on.
I for one hope that the Nigerian does stay put for at least another season. It is refreshing to see players stick with smallish clubs, and I’d certainly hate to see him leave the league. In Italy, Marco Di Vaio has set a brilliant example by sticking with strugglers Bologna. Hodgson and co. must hope that Odemwingie does likewise, and remains loyal to the club that brought him in less than a year ago.