The Rise of Andrew Omobamidele

The supremely talented Andrew Omobamidele is expected to earn a move to a top-flight club, whether in England or elsewhere in Europe, soon. Joining Norwich City in 2019 as a 16-year-old, Andrew Omobamidele has undergone a rapid ascent that has seen him progress from the youth teams to becoming captain of the first team four years later as well as a reliable member of the Republic of Ireland national team.


There is slight surprise though at speculation due to the relative lack of senior appearances Omobamidele has accrued. In fact, much of the rumour talk appears to be of Norwich’s own attempts, with departing sporting director, Stuart Webber, stating in an interview that he does not expect the Irish international to be at Carrow Road for the 2023/24 season.


This is perhaps an attempt by Norwich to cash in on a current high-value player before the value decreases should they fail to gain promotion to the Premier League – even though Omobamidele would be a pivotal piece in Norwich’s ageing defence. So, should Omobamidele depart, then Norwich will be bidding farewell to a composed commander of a centre back who is very comfortable with the ball at his feet. 


Such traits have been evident ever since making his professional debut. Though his first appearance was coming off the bench in the final seconds away to Cardiff City to defend a lead, his full debut was away to Preston North End in which he played the full ninety minutes and received the Man of the Match award. Whilst the game ended in a draw, with the hosts equalising with the last kick of the game, Omobamidele exuded a calming presence and that has not disappeared. 


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In many ways it was the perfect introduction to senior football for the centre back, being another youth product ushered in by head coach Daniel Farke and given the confidence to believe in his own ability. It was a typical Farke Championship side that he entered into, one with high morale and confidence, but also one where opposition teams rarely dared to apply pressure to Norwich in fear of their attack. This allowed him to become more assured of his own style of play and exert influence over the style of the team.


Particularly noticeable is how Omobamidele thrives as a ball-playing centre-back who likes to move the ball on quickly. This can put him at odds with fellow teammates, particularly fellow centre-half Grant Hanley who can be far slower in moving the ball on and creates visible frustration for the Irishman. 


Whilst much of his 2021/22 Premier League season, his first full season of senior football was plagued by injuries, these positive traits were apparent despite him being part of a Norwich side that received far less of the ball compared to when in the Championship. Of his five appearances that season, he scored one headed goal from a corner and ended with the highest pass success rate of any Norwich player.


And, okay, perhaps with only five appearances that may not seem all too remarkable. However, it is important to remember just how lacking in confidence this Norwich side were and, after a change in the team’s playing style, reluctant in playing a passing game. This was especially the case after the arrival of Dean Smith as manager in November 2021. 


As with many of Norwich’s more talented players, Omobamidele was not helped with this managerial appointment. A style was implemented that saw little creativity being used and few options for Omobamidele to fire the ball further up the field and launch an attack. This, in part, is what makes it all the more impressive and commendable that Omobamidele continued, as best he could, to carry out his playing style, especially at such a young age where he was perceived as being inexperienced.


These are traits that Omobamidele carried into the 2022/23 Championship campaign. Though injuries once again hampered parts of his season, he continued to show the type of centre-back that he is. When compared to every Norwich player who played more than a single game, Omobamidele had the highest pass completion percentage of 88% while the joint sixth-highest number of progressive passes. He also ranked very high with the number of blocks and interceptions. 


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Therefore, it can be interpreted that whilst Omobamidele is a naturally gifted progressive ball-playing centre-back, he is also a superb reader of the game. Elements such as these started to show themselves once again after the appointment of David Wagner as Head Coach. He immediately became part of the German’s plans and was back playing full 90-minute matches. The first two league matches saw Norwich return to an attacking style, always looking to play on the front foot. Omobamidele was now part of a team where he could propel the team forward. 


Although, there was a weakness to this style in how it left the defence very exposed, as highlighted in the games that followed. These were matches against teams who showed that if they had adopted a style of their own, then they could counteract Norwich’s attacking set-up which consisted of creating a large ring around one central midfielder. When robbed of the ball, this often left Omobamidele and the rest of the defence extremely exposed and helpless. 


After a period on the bench and late cameos to secure victories, Omobamidele returned to the side in replacement of an injured Grant Hanley. He also, rather surprisingly, was handed the captain’s armband and tasked with leading Norwich through a pivotal period in their quest for a playoff spot. This was an enormous amount of pressure placed on his shoulders, but Wagner believed that he was more than ready and had shown so in training – all despite making relatively few appearances.


It was a decision that failed to have a positive effect on results, but, from Omobamidele’s point of view, he appeared natural for the role and it did not appear to knock any confidence. Something particularly important for Norwich given their apparent desire to sell the Irishman whilst valued high.


Also unsurprising is how he already has numerous Republic of Ireland caps to his name. Making his debut as a substitute in the 36th minute against Portugal in the 2022 European Championship qualifiers, he was tasked with keeping Cristiano Ronaldo quiet. And he immediately looked unfazed by the prospect and as though he had faced opposition of such stature for several years.


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Despite Ireland taking a lead, Portugal clawed one back in the 89th minute before securing victory in the 96th – both goals by Ronaldo. It was a cruel end for Omobamidele as he had been immense throughout the game, oozing confidence and displaying real composure. And, though it ended in defeat, it proved that, despite his debut being against the reigning European champions, he could already be viewed as a reliable centre-back.


More appearances have predictably followed suit and Omobamidele finds himself part of a young and talented Republic of Ireland squad, with real focus on qualifying for the 2024 Euros in Germany. Usually, Ireland deploy a three-at-the-back formation and, when fit and available to be picked, Omobamidele is chosen as the right centre-back. This allows him to have as much attacking freedom as a centre-half can have, knowing that he will have two other centre-backs covering him if one of his progressive passes fails to come off.


So, for all of the talent and obvious potential, many Norwich fans would argue that they are yet to see the best of him. This is mostly due to the injuries that have hampered him and tactics being deployed that are ill-suiting to his personal game. However, as a calm, composed, ball-playing, forward-thinking centre-back, it won’t be long before Omobamidele is a regular for a top-flight side and a permanent fixture for the Republic of Ireland.

By: Thomas Shelton / @tomshelton11

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / James Williamson – AMA / Getty Images