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King Odafe, the deadly striker, ready for a move


Margao : Despite his nightmarish first season in Kolkata, Nigerian striker Odafe Onyeka Okolie is ready to return to the Mecca of Indian football.

“If a good offer comes calling, why not,” says Okolie, who is into his last year of a three-year contract at Goa’s Churchill Bros Sports Club.

The 23-year-old Nigerian striker is currently Indian football’s hottest property. His ability to score in almost every game has resulted in 57 goals in 2007, the highest by any footballer in a calendar year.

But it was not like this when Odafe arrived in India as a gangly teenager in 2003.

He joined Mohammedan Sporting the same year, but had a nightmarish start as the giant Kolkata club kept shuffling him around.

“I started off as a stopper back, then got moved to the wings and later in midfield. I was never really settled at Mohammedan and they almost always played me out of position,” recalls Odafe.

“Mohammedan changed five coaches during my time at the club. There was so much of pressure that it almost drove me away,” disclosed Odafe, tongue firmly in cheek.

The Nigerian striker packed his bags for neighbouring Bangladesh where he was an instant hit with Mukhtijoddha Sangsad. He finished as the highest scorer in the Bangladesh League with 14 goals, before signing a lucrative three-year contract with Churchill Bros Sports Club, Goa.

At Churchill Bros – India’s only family-owned club – Odafe got the freedom and space to operate on his own terms, flowering into a bright prospect under the tutelage of Moroccan coach Karim Bencherifa.

At first, Odafe guided Churchill Bros back into the premier National Football League with some heavy scoring in the Second Division National Football League. A year later, he finished as the highest scorer of the NFL, and at present looks good enough to retain the honour in the I-League with 12 goals in eight matches.

Odafe insists he is “very happy” at Churchill Bros and gets whatever he wants from the club he regards as family. But, despite his King like status at the Goan club, Odafe cannot ignore the passion that is associated with Kolkata football.

“I like the passion (for football) in Kolkata. I like the way they treat their stars. And I think I am mature enough to handle any pressure,” disclosed Odafe, whose name in his mother tongue Ibo means ‘God Bless You’.

Pointing to the likes of Jose Ramirez Barreto and Baichung Bhutia, Odafe said the two wouldn’t have enjoyed the same status in Indian football had they been playing anywhere besides Kolkata.

“Everyone knows Bhutia, Barreto; tell me how many remember my face,” he wants to know.

One of the Kolkata giants, says Odafe, has already contacted him. But “any deals will have to be negotiated only at the end of the season”.

Until then, Churchill Bros and a couple of Kolkata bigwigs will keep their fingers crossed.