Chiedozie Ogbene speaks to the media. Ryan Byrne/INPHO

'I try not to get too high when things are going well' - Ever-improving Ogbene keeps feet on the ground

The Rotherham striker has made a superb start to the new Championship season.

CHIEDOZIE OGBENE’S INTERNATIONAL rise stuttered for the first time in June, when he was among the players to drop out of the team at the midway point of the four-game window. 

Ireland opened with back-to-back defeats to Armenia and Ukraine – instantly ending ambitions of topping the group – but then hauled themselves back from the brink with a rousing 3-0 win at home to Scotland and then a creditable 1-1 draw with Ukraine in Poland. Ogbene, who emerged as a vital player for Stephen Kenny in the latter half of the World Cup qualifying campaign last year, missed the Scotland win with a minor injury and played just 10 minutes off the bench in the final game in Lodz. 

“I’ve stayed relaxed, really”, he reflected. “I try not to get too high when things are going well and try not to get too low when things are going badly. These things are going to happen, but the people I have around me are quite good.

“Not starting against Scotland, the boys got the result and that’s the most important thing. I had to watch it from the sidelines and watch the clips to see what players like Michael [Obafemi] were doing differently than I would have done. We can learn from each other.

“We’re all here to achieve one goal: to win games. So it doesn’t really matter who is on the pitch. Obviously you push to be on the pitch, but once you getting results, it’s always good for everybody.”

Ogbene’s case to be restored to the starting line-up for the return game with Scotland on Saturday is compelling. He has started the Championship season in superb form, scoring five goals in 11 appearances. It’s been aided by a change in position: having helped Rotherham claim promotion while playing at right wing-back, he has been repurposed as a striker this season. 

rotherham-united-v-reading-sky-bet-championship-aesseal-new-york-stadium Ogbene waves to the crowd after Rotherham's victory over Reading earlier this season. PA PA

“I’m not a natural born striker, I’ve played winger all my life and to leave players like Georgie Kelly and Tom Eaves out to play me up top obviously shows [manager Paul Warne's] belief in me.

“I think since I’ve been here [with Ireland] and playing a more forward role has helped him make his decision. Being here and getting that experience in a higher, more forward role and taking that into pre-season. I’m working on it, I’m learning to be more of a focal point for the team and be that outlet for the team. I’m hoping I’ll continue to chip in with goals for the team and keep us up where we want to be.” 

Rotherham were relegated from the Championship in 2020/21, a season which Ogbene largely missed through injury. Now that Rotherham’s return to the second tier has coincided with his staying fit, Ogbene is eager to prove his quality. 

“Even after that year of injury, going into League One I think I needed to prove myself because we had a very good squad, and I had to play a year at right wing-back to show to my manager that I was capable of chipping in and contributing to the team. Coming into the Championship I knew what I had to do. I’m improving and I’m doing more off-ball activity to make sure I stay healthy throughout the year.” 

Ogbene is into the final year of his contract at Rotherham, and there was some speculation he might leave ahead of this season. A move, he says, wasn’t close, but he hasn’t yet opened contract talks with his club. 

“There is no talk, the club haven’t really come to me, I have said to them I want to push, push for the next step. They know my desire is to push, we will see how it pans out but the main focus, I think, they are more than happy to see how the season goes and hopefully I can contribute.” 

The blip in June notwithstanding, Ogbene’s rise has been remarkable, fuelled by a relentless desire to improve. Interestingly, for a player with searing pace, one of the things he has learned is the importance of occasionally standing still. 

“When I was playing in League One, I was always running towards the ball and at this level, you learn to trust your team-mates around you and to trust the the ball is going to come to you. They are the big steps.

“I feel good physically. I’ve put some kilos on, some lean muscle, so I’ve become more powerful, but I think the most important thing is decision-making. That’s what separates the best players from the really good players, just that split-second decision making, so I’m just trying to improve on that.” 

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