Revenge? Of course!!
They knocked us out of the Semi’s and Obinna has a point to prove….
Two games ago, he was scoring a brilliant hat-trick to knock Nottingham Forest out of the FA Cup single-handedly. In his last game, he scored twice more, including what Ian Holloway called “one of the goals of the season”, as West Ham won 3-1 at Blackpool. Who knows what the Nigerian might do this afternoon?
Obinna’s season, his first in English football after signing on loan from Inter Milan, has rather mirrored his club’s. After a difficult, unsettled few months, during which the future of manager Avram Grant was almost a daily topic of speculation, there is finally a sense that a corner has been turned. Confidence is returning, and the goals are beginning to flow.
“With stuff about the manager, I thought it really brought a lot of instability to us,” he says. “Nobody knew what was happening. The atmosphere here was different. But the spirit now is a little bit more high. Finally, I’m getting the favours.
“For everyone to be very successful in life, you have to be a bit lucky. In these last two games, I’ve been a bit more confident with myself in terms of composure and being able to score goals.”
Five months after swapping the San Siro for the East End, Obinna is finally coming to terms with the culture shock. One of the first things he did on signing for West Ham was to ask Karren Brady, the club’s vice-chairman, to make arrangements to bring his mother over from Nigeria.
“She isn’t here yet, but she will be soon,” he says. “At this moment my family are very happy for me, because the goals are coming. I really like it in London. I have so many friends in England, so it wasn’t hard for me to adapt at all.”
Obinna is a player who has always needed a sense of family and community around him. After leaving Nigeria to join Italian side Chievo, the club struggled in his first season in Serie A.
“The first phase was absolutely poor,” he said. “I think we got six points in 17 games. We had to come together as a team, stay together a couple of times, eat together, go out together, do many things together as a unit.”
Chievo were relegated on the final day of that season by a point, and it is an experience Obinna is desperate not to repeat.
“It was really, really bad,” he recalls. “Really, really sad for we the players, because we were like a family. But at this point I think West Ham is better off. We deserve to be in the middle of the table. But nobody is going to give you the chance to win easily. You have to fight.”
Having failed to excel during the autumn — his two goals against Blackpool were only his second and third in the Premier League — Obinna’s season may be on the verge of exploding into life. The January signings of Demba Ba and Robbie Keane have left West Ham with six front-line strikers, but Obinna’s searing recent form may well give him the edge.
“It is not easy to come to English football and have an impact immediately, but he is improving,” Grant says. “Your decisions need to be quicker than in other countries. This is the reason that some players in their first year in England are not as good as they can be. For him it has been quicker than I thought. He is improving and his decisions are better.”
It is not just the speed of the football that Obinna has had to manage.
“The mentality of a big team like Inter Milan is totally different to that of West Ham,” he says. “Over there, you’ve got top quality players. Their mentality’s just winning, winning, winning. Throughout their career they have always won. You have someone like Javier Zanetti who is 37 years old, and he has such a great winning mentality that keeps him going. The difference here is that West Ham United is a club with challenges. They’re two totally different teams, two different types of play.”
But Obinna’s ambition was always to play in England. He remembers watching players like Jay-Jay Okocha and Kanu during the 1994 World Cup, both of whom went on to light up the Premier League.
“To follow in their footsteps is emotional for me,” Obinna says. “Kanu gave me loads of advice before I moved here. He told me I could do well in England, that he had a great relationship with the manager [Grant] when he was at Portsmouth and that knowing the kind of person that I am, I would have the same. He told me to give it a try, and you dare not refuse King Kanu.”
It might be a little churlish to mention that Kanu has been relegated twice during his career, with West Brom and Portsmouth. But with a third of the season remaining and the squad beginning to gel, Obinna still has time to avoid a similar fate.