Andrew Omobamidele pictured at the Republic of Ireland U17 Media Day. Gary Carr/INPHO
Role Model

The Irishman who dreams of emulating Virgil van Dijk

Norwich’s Andrew Omobamidele is getting ready to represent his country at the U17 Euros.

WHEN ASKED ABOUT sporting role models, Andrew Omobamidele barely misses a beat.

“Virgil van Dijk,” he says, citing the accomplished Liverpool centre-back and recently-crowned PFA Player of the Year.

Omobamidele speaks about the Dutch international with a mixture of confidence and realism. The youngster is confident enough to realise he is nowhere near the Dutchman’s level currently, while possessing enough self-belief to at least strive towards emulating the 27-year-old star.

“I play centre-back and Virgil van Dijk is obviously the best defender at the moment. He’s quality. He’s one of my idols in my position. I play for Norwich City in England and we like to play out from the back so being good on the ball is kind of part of that.

“That’s why I look up to him. Some of his attributes, I like to think I have some of them myself. Obviously, he’s on a different level, but he’s a good person to look up to and a good role model.”

The 16-year-old is preparing for the U17 Euros where he hopes to help hosts Ireland live up to high expectations, with the Boys in Green having reached the quarter-finals in the competition for the past two consecutive tournaments.

Playing in front of a partisan home crowd with friends and family in attendance will be a big test for this young Irish group, but Omobamidele insists he is accustomed to such pressure. In his short career so far, he has already come up against Dutch international Vincent Janssen — a striker eight years his senior.

“At the start of the season, I was playing regularly at 18s and I’d started every game, so my progress was good. My debut for the 23s was against Nottingham Forest and I played the full 90, and then I played against Southampton 23s. Hopefully, next year, I’ll be able to get in fully with the 23s in my second season.

18s is totally different to 16s and then it’s another big step to 23s. It’s more physical. You’re playing against pros. Sometimes first-team players step back and drop down and play U23. We played Tottenham and [Vincent] Janssen, players like that, are coming down to play. This was a couple of months ago when he wasn’t getting his game for the first team. It’s a good test. Where else would you want to be playing? I think I just managed [to cope with Janssen].”

Such feats represent swift progress for Omobamidele in a relatively short space of time. The young footballer was born in Dublin to a Nigerian father and Cork-born mother, growing up in Lucan before moving to Leixlip around the age of 12.

He has two older sisters and two younger brothers, who play football and rugby respectively, while his mother’s side of the family have more of a GAA than a footballing background.

Omobamidele started out as a striker with Leixlip before gradually moving back to midfield and then defence, helping the club reach the All-Ireland finals ultimately.

“It was the All-Irelands that got [me my move away]. Leixlip were a big club at the time but we weren’t compared to the Kevin’s and the Joey’s. Making it to the All-Ireland finals and winning it was a big step forward for us.

“Our goalkeeper, Harry Halwax, went to Derby, our winger went to United, Josh [Giurgi]  is obviously at Norwich. I think we’re the team with the most players that actually went over to England. I put it down to the All-Irelands.

“I went last June, so nearly a year ago. The first few weeks were a bit challenging, because I’m used to a big family at home. Going into a house where it’s just me and Josh and the houseparents, no kids, it’s just getting used to it. Now, I’m used to playing every day.

“They’ve a good link with Irish players. Even the coaches, there’s a good few Irish coaches there, so it’s a good club to be at.

“Because some of us are Irish, we take care of our own, maybe go out to Nando’s or something like that, for something to do after training and games.”

Omobamidele and his fellow youth team are generally encouraged to attend the Norwich senior side’s home games, though his plane flight to Ireland coincided with their promotion-sealing win on Saturday.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t go to the game on Saturday, because I was flying here. I was on the plane trying to work the livescore, but I couldn’t get a signal. Then, when I got off the plane, I saw it and it was crazy. It’s going to be good to watch Chelsea and all play at Carrow Road.”

The youngster is hoping to achieve similar success with Ireland in the coming weeks, as he aims to end an encouraging season on a high, while already planning to build on his impressive progress next season.

“In pre-season [at Norwich], it took me a couple of weeks [to catch up], because I was only training Tuesdays and Thursdays with Leixlip. Going into a full training programme from Monday to Friday and a game on Saturday, I think I’ve improved a lot. I wasn’t playing U23s at the start, but in the second half of the season, I’ve been almost every game on the bench and I’ve played two full games already.”

Gavan Casey and Murray Kinsella are joined by Andy Dunne to get stuck into last weekend’s Champions Cup semi-finals.:

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