'There's so much competition here and I'm not getting what I want'

Chiedozie Ogbene on his difficult start to life at Brentford since moving over from Ireland.

Chiedozie Ogbene admits to having a
Chiedozie Ogbene admits to having a "frustrating" start to life at Brentford.
Image: PA Archive/PA Images

NOT SO LONG ago, Chiedozie Ogbene was one of the brightest prospects in the League of Ireland.

The young winger, who was born in Nigeria but moved to Cork aged eight in 2005, excelled as a youngster with local sides Tramore Athletic, College Corinthians, Kilreen Celtic and Everton, while also enjoying a stint playing GAA for Nemo Rangers and once putting in a man-of-the-match display in the Cork U21 football championship final at Páirc Ui Rinn.

In 2015, the teenage starlet was signed by Cork City and his progress accelerated from there, making his first-team debut that same year while also helping the club’s U19 team win the national cup.

The following year, Ogbene continued to make waves on Leeside, coming off the bench in the FAI Cup final, as a Sean Maguire goal helped his side upset Stephen Kenny’s Dundalk.

Ogbene was already getting restless though. With his game time limited at Cork, he made the surprise move to rivals Limerick, with whom he enjoyed a season of regular game time in 2017.

The promising young winger’s electric pace and supreme dribbling skills caught the attention of a number of clubs across the water. The player was linked with both Chelsea and Aston Villa, before eventually joining Brentford, a Championship club renowned for playing good football with a distinct, forward-thinking philosophy.

Aged 20 when he moved to England in January 2018, at that point, Ogbene could be forgiven for thinking he could do no wrong. Within the space of three years, he had gone from playing football locally to suddenly being thrust into England’s second tier, with the glitz and glamour of the Premier League not as far away as it once would have seemed.

What has followed, however, has been a largely frustrating 14 months. He made his debut in April last year, coming off the bench against Nottingham Forest with the game at 0-0 in the 67th minute. Almost immediately, he won a corner from which the Bees scored the winning goal.

I didn’t even expect to play that game,” he tells The42. “It just shows how fast football changes. I travel up. It’s 0-0. It’s up in the air and Dean Smith subbed me in — I was shocked. He said ‘just enjoy it, run at people and make something happen’ — that’s exactly what I did. We won a corner, we were fortunate we scored from it and came out 1-0 winners. It was one of the best days of my life.”

Ogbene played once more in the Championship last season in May, replacing former Chelsea youngster Josh McEachran in the 78th minute of a 1-1 draw at home to Hull.

But aside from a late substitute appearance in the EFL Cup, Ogbene found himself out of the first-team picture again at the start of this season. He consequently went on loan to Exeter in the first half of the campaign, appearing a total of 18 times for the club in all competitions, though just three of those games were starts in League Two amid an injury-interrupted spell.

“Chio will go back to Brentford now, because Brentford want to have a look at him for a couple of weeks, so that one might be out of our hands, but I was pleased with his contribution,” manager Matt Taylor told reporters, after the youngster’s loan spell expired in January.

Chiedozie Ogbene celebrates with The FAI Cup Ogbene celebrates with the 2016 FAI Cup. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

In the end, Ogbene stayed with his parent club. He has played five times since returning from the loan stint, though all of the matches in question have been late cameos off the bench, with the most recent appearance seeing him introduced in the 89th minute of a 1-0 win over Aston Villa on 13 February.

While enjoying life in general over there, Ogbene’s frustration at the time it has taken to establish himself in the starting XI is palpable. It is that same stubborn refusal to be second choice that saw him make the pragmatic decision two years ago to leave Cork and join Limerick, where he was guaranteed starts. For now though, he is determined to stick it out at the club who are currently 13th in the Championship with nine games to play.

“Inside of football, I’m a bit frustrated,” he says. “There’s so much competition here and I’m not getting what I want– it’s the nature of football, you’ve just got to keep going.

“In general, I’m great. I’m training well. I’m in a good environment. It’s just that I’m not getting what I want in terms of playing time, but that’s normal everywhere.

There are more players like me. And there are more players that want to play in every team. The market’s much bigger here compared with Ireland. I found it much easier to dribble around guys in Ireland compared to here. I feel like there are faster players here.

“The competition’s so big — so many players from different backgrounds with different ambitions. Unlike Ireland, where most players are Irish and they’re just trying to get through [to play at a higher level] like me.

“The main difference is there’s more pace and power in this league compared to the Irish league.”

He continues: “It’s more intense in English football. When I came over, it was war. I had to learn a lot compared with Ireland where they were pushing me, I was the main man. There are players like me — raw, but with more technical ability, more composure and that have more experience in this league. It was a bit of a shock to the system, the way the ball was moved — one or two-touch. It’s extremely fast, so you just have to adapt quick.”

Aside from the football itself, adjusting to his new surroundings and lifestyle was another aspect to the challenge of making it in England. He has spent the past year living alone, though he is in touch with people back in Ireland on a regular basis, ringing his family every night. He also misses the Cork accent because it “just makes me feel really happy” and reminds him of home.

“It was extremely difficult at the start, because you come to a different country, it doesn’t start off well and it becomes extremely lonely when things aren’t going your way.”

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Ipswich Town v Brentford - Sky Bet Championship - Portman Road Dean Smith handed Ogbene his Brentford debut in April of last year. Source: EMPICS Sport

On the plus side though, the 21-year-old has received plenty of support — something that English clubs are sometimes accused of failing to provide to an adequate level for Irish youngsters and others from abroad.

“Especially in Brentford, it’s a good environment here,” he explains. “People want to help you, it’s a family club. At the start it was difficult, but then I eased into it. You ask for help, you get help. And now I feel like I’m at home.

“I’m blessed that I came at the age I came. I feel like if I was to come over to the UK at a younger age, I think I would have found it extremely difficult. But I came to the UK a man. It was difficult at 20, so I can only imagine what it would be like being younger.”

Another loan move could be an option if the player continues to find it difficult to break into the first team, though Ogbene is hopeful he can convince the management staff of his worth ultimately.

You have to earn the manager’s trust step by step and I have to earn that respect from the team to be used regularly. It comes over time. It doesn’t come over night. We just need to be patient, keep working, you know it will come. You never know what can happen, football changes quickly. That’s the main thing, just to stay focused.

“[The coaching staff] talk to me every day. They always give constructive feedback to help you. Sometimes it’s just a matter of time really, because the player ahead of you has more experience and is in top form.”

So while there have been stumbling blocks along the way and there will undoubtedly be more to come, Ogbene is determined to keep persevering with the same level of enthusiasm, hard work and skill he demonstrated for Nemo back in the day

“When something’s wrong, [certain young footballers] believe that’s the way it’s supposed to be. In my situation, some players could give up. They could say: ‘It’s almost 18 months and I have not established myself.’

“You just have to keep going, because if it doesn’t work here, it can work somewhere else. You can always tell someone to train and keep motivated, but it’s extremely difficult when you’re doing it alone. My advice to every kid is ‘keep going’. If you want it bad, you never know what can happen and everything changes. As well as doing extra, train more than the other guys, but you’ve got to keep going. There are ups and downs in football, and when you’re really down, that’s when your true character is tested.”

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Paul Fennessy

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