Chiedozie Ogbene’s Rise From Obscurity to International History Maker

Chiedozie Ogbene

Chiedozie Ogbene Credit: Brian F Smyth (ETPhotos)

The Republic of Ireland’s recent UEFA Nations League defeats at home to Ukraine and away at Armenia were perhaps the lowest point in manager Stephen Kenny’s reign. The performance in Yerevan was especially uninspiring, with the Boys in Green managing to muster just two shots on target as their eight-game unbeaten run came to an end. That result, followed by Ukraine’s 1-0 victory at the Aviva Stadium four days later meant that Ireland's winless run in Europe’s newest competition stretched to 11. But there was one man who shone brightly amongst the plethora of subpar performances, a man who was a relative unknown just 12 months ago, Chiedozie Ogbene.

By his own admission, the Rotherham United man was shocked when he received his first call-up to the international setup last May. He would make his debut as a late substitute in the goalless draw away in Hungary the following month and became the first African-born player to represent the Republic of Ireland in the process.

An Impressive Start

Since his debut, he has gone from strength to strength. An impressive 31-minute cameo in the 3-0 victory away in Azerbaijan in September, in which he scored his first international goal, gave his manager something to think about. That performance was enough for Kenny to start the 25-year-old against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal, and once again, he was the Irish’s greatest threat. His pace and direct running had a defence containing the likes of Nelson Semedeo, Pepe and Danilo Pereira sweating.

His brightest moment wearing the famous green shirt came against another of European football’s giants, Belgium. Roberto Martinez’s side were the number one team in the world when they visited Dublin back in March but a blistering performance - containing a magical overhead kick as well as an assist for good measure - from the former Cork City youngster earned the hosts a 2-2 draw.

Trophies At Domestic Level

And Ogbene’s stunning form hasn’t just been on the international stage either. He scored a 25-yard screamer at Wembley earlier in the campaign to give he and his Rotherham teammates victory in the Papa John’s Trophy final. The Millers followed up that success by securing promotion to the Championship on the final day of the League One season, with another Irishman - Georgie Kelly - scoring a last-minute winner in front of 3,000 travelling fans away at Gillingham.

The promotion is the second that Ogbee has celebrated at the New York Stadium since his move from Brentford back in 2019. Before his time in London, the Irishman regularly featured for Limerick, impressing in the 2017 Irish Premier League campaign where he had 14 goal involvements in 32 games. That was enough to convince the Bees to bring him to their innovative B Team setup, however, he never managed to reach the first team.

Unluckily for the explosive winger, he was left out as Ireland finally impressed in the Nations League, defeating Scotland 3-0 and drawing against Ukraine in Poland. But as an ambitious player, he will have been disappointed to miss out. Missing out here and there is to be expected though, after playing a huge amount of games at club level - 53 of them to be exact -  throughout the course of last season. And that ambition will be hard to contain, especially for Rotherham’s manager, Paul Warne.

The Next Step

Speaking to the Irish Sun, Ogbene stated that he wants to “go to the next level.” Former Premier League club Swansea City have made their interest known, and when the publication asked about that, he said: “Every player wants to be at a stable, established club, especially a big one like Swansea City.” While that is hardly a come-and-get-me-plea to Russell Martin, it won’t read well to the Millers' faithful.

The paceman will remain a Rotherham United player until the end of next season, and in his own words, he is “quite happy to be” exactly that. But in 12 months' time, his contract in South Yorkshire will expire and unless The Millers have a miraculous campaign in the Championship, it is highly unlikely that he will sign an extension, meaning that he may reach “the next level” sooner rather than later.