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'It’s only a matter of time' - The latest Irish teenager on the verge of a Premier League breakthrough

Mipo Odubeko turned down a pro contract at Manchester United to join West Ham, and the decision is already paying off.

Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

ALL STRIKERS NEED a good sense of timing: Ademipo Odubeko seems to have it with a theatrical flourish. 

A few years ago, he was playing up front for what was effectively an U15s South of Ireland XI against a Northern Ireland selection, arranged by a Manchester United-affiliated soccer school. United contacted St Joseph’s Boys to arrange a game, and they brought some of their best players along with talents from other clubs across the DDSL.

During the game, a Manchester City scout sidled up to Joey’s coach Bernard Byrne to ask a little about the striker Odubeko, and which foot he was strongest on.  

“He’s decent on both sides, but he’s predominantly right-footed”, said Byrne. 

Thirty seconds later, Odubeko rifled a left-footed shot into the top corner. 

“Are you sure about that?”

Manchester City had submitted an offer for Odubeko by the following morning.

Odubeko is the latest Irish teenager on the fringes of elite professional football: he made his first-team debut for West Ham United in the third round of the FA Cup against Stockport earlier this month, and may be involved again today against Doncaster. Having tested positive for Covid-19 at the start of the week, he subsequently returned a negative test, but missing a week’s training may limit his involvement later today.

Odubeko has featured on the bench in the Premier League and would have made that debut in the EFL Cup in September had it not been for a four-month injury layoff, and though he is only 18, he is highly-rated in all the right places at West Ham. 

“Mipo is somebody we’re looking forward to working with. We have big hopes for him”, says manager David Moyes. 

Born in Tallaght, Odubeko is of Nigerian descent and played football for Crumlin United before joining St Joseph’s Boys from U13s onwards.

“Even at a young age he was strong, powerful, fast; he could play off his right and left side and he was good in the air. He had all those things”, says Bernard Byrne, who coached Odubeko at St Joseph’s Boys. 

“Mipo and Troy Parrott were the well-known players at that age group, they were the two best players. 

“There were other players who did well, but even at 13s, Mipo and Troy were the two top players. You see now they are still the top players as they are both pushing on in the professional game.”

Odubeko made an instant impact for Joey’s, scoring both goals in the U13 SFAI Cup win over College Corinthians of Cork and having taken some criticism from a handful of Corinthians fans at the game, he celebrated the second goal by pressing his finger to his lips. 

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WhatsApp Image 2021-01-19 at 4.07.43 PM Mipo Odubeko celebrates a goal in the SFAI U13 Cup final. Source: Bernard Byrne, St Joseph's Boys

That attitude was leavened by a fierce desire to succeed and it came from within, rather than from any pushy parents. When Byrne congratulated his mother on his performance in the U13 cup final, she hadn’t realised her son had scored twice. 

“When you compare that with some parents it’s an amazing story; others would be shouting from the rooftops that their son had done this in the biggest game in the country”, says Byrne. 

“We never had one word with the mother or father, when you’d have others who wouldn’t have half the ability he had and would be on the phone about this and that relating to their lad. His drive was within himself.”

The family moved to Manchester in anticipation of an agreement with City, but while the timing of the move largely suited – they had family in the area while the eldest son had just finished his Leaving Cert while another had just finished primary school – it proved to be a mistake.

They moved before an agreement had been finalised, and so City would technically have been at risk of being penalised for an illegal registration had they proceeded with the signing. So while Odubeko played friendly games for City – and scored against the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid – he couldn’t play any competitive games. 

He eventually got clearance to sign for Manchester United in 2016, for whom he was prolific at underage level, scoring 35 goals in one season at Academy level, but when he was offered a professional contract by United in 2019, he turned it down.

Several reasons have been given as to why he did turn that contract down – money being one of them – but one major factor was the tangled and busy path to United’s first team, into which Mason Greenwood had just broken.

It was anticipated Odubeko would move to Europe as several clubs were keen on his signature – with Borussia Dortmund, PSV Eindhoven, Bayern Munich, and Juventus reportedly among them- but he stayed in England, signing for West Ham having sought assurances on a trajectory to the first team. 

They have been true to their word.

Following the departure of Sebastien Haller, West Ham have only one senior striker left at the club – the excellent but injury-prone Michail Antonio – and Odubeko has impressed at U18 and U23 level for the club thus far, scoring on his debut for the latter. 

At international level, Odubeko can play for Nigeria and the FA are thought to be exploring his eligibility for England, but he has played at U17 level for Ireland and may be fast-tracked to the U21s sooner rather than later with Jim Crawford understood to be a fan. There is no suggestion yet he has any intention of declaring for anyone other than Ireland.

“Players generally want to feel like they are wanted, and if he feels the FAI want him, I’m sure he’d swim across the Irish sea to play for Ireland”, says Byrne. 

It remains to be seen if Odubeko is involved against Doncaster in the FA Cup fourth round today, but Byrne is sure further first-team involvement for Odubeko is a matter of when, rather than if. 

“We’re thrilled. We’re not thrilled for ourselves, but for Mipo and for his family. It’s also good to be able to say to some of the younger players we’re working with now, to look at Mipo – and others like Shane Flynn at Leicester, Roland Idowu at Cardiff and Festy Ebosele at Derby – and say, ‘Two years ago, they were sitting where you are now.’

“I always say to the kids: those kids were the hardest-working kids on the team and it’s no coincidence these are the kids now playing professional football.

“It will be interesting to see if Mipo is in or around the bench in the Premier League, but it’s coming. It’s only a matter of time, and hopefully sooner rather than later.” 

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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