Big interview: Former West Brom striker Peter Odemwingie has plenty of new goals
It’s the question that plagues almost every professional footballer, and sits dormant at the back of the mind for years until all of a sudden it’s upon them. What am I going to do when I retire?
Playing football is a notoriously short career, and many find themselves at a loss after their legs give up in their mid-30s.
Some struggle to find a new purpose to life, and recreate the buzz, but rather than wallow in self-pity, Peter Odemwingie’s approach has been to throw himself at everything.
It was April this year when the former Albion marksman – who still lives in Sutton Coldfield with his young family – announced he had officially retired from football.
The truth is this was no sudden retirement, Odemwingie’s career had been winding down since he stopped playing for Madura United in Indonesia several months previously.
But now it’s official, he’s sizing up his next career, and he told the Express & Star there were plenty of plates spinning.
Whether it’s podcasting with the BBC, promoting the Women’s World Cup for FIFA, doing his coaching badges, a law degree, setting up a football agency and now working on becoming a golf professional – Odemwingie’s diary is full.
Somewhere in between all that he finds time to be a devoted dad of three and work on his golf game with friend Sam Johnstone.
“It’s busier than I thought it would be!” when asked how retirement was treating him. “But it’s good. I got the role of FIFA ambassador to the Women’s World Cup, so from October last year to the World Cup I was busy promoting the game which was really good.
“I also do a weekly BBC podcast on world football with Pat Nevin and (World Cup winner) Heather O’Reilly – that’s the funnest part of the week.
“I enjoy that because it keeps me in the game somehow. When you retire you feel the game just abandons you.
“It felt like that for a bit, until the podcast came along and the FIFA role came. I was active during the African Cup of Nations as well with a lot of media stuff.”
Entering the media is a well-trodden path for many footballers, and while he may enjoy it, Odemwingie has loftier aspirations long-term.
“I’m planning to do my coaching badges this year, starting the A and B licence,” he revealed. “Being such a globetrotter I will have coaching jobs here and there available. There have been a few talks already.
“The dream job will be Nigerian national team job, or coaching the Baggies in the Premier League!
“I’d love to coach those clubs I’ve played for one day. I’m not in a hurry to do that, it takes a long time to become a proper coach, by the time I’m 45, in seven years, maybe I will be ready for a decent coaching job.
“Russia is there, Uzbekistan, where I was born, has a few decent teams. Africa has new leagues which are interesting.
“I speak French, that will help, I’m going to learn Polish, Spanish and Portuguese a little bit, and just be one of those coaches because dressing rooms are so multinational, so that will be one of my plans too.”
As well as his coaching badges, Odemwingie is also keen to enter higher education.
“I was always curious about learning, but had a talent in football, so that was the main job, but it would be nice to learn something outside of the game,” he said.
“Ideally I would love to pursue a Law degree for the next five years. My English is good enough now, I don’t need to leave the country to study. I will know soon if I start that this year or next summer.”
He’s also keen to give something back to the game that gave him so much, and wants to become a mentor to young players starting out.
“I’m part of a sports agency now, that will be helpful in years to come,” he said. “As a player I made so many mistakes in my career, it could’ve been a better career on and off the pitch so when I give advice it will be valuable for young players.
“I had a long-ish career. Unfortunately a cruciate ligament injury after the Brazil World Cup took about three or four years out of my career, otherwise I’d still be playing now.”
Not only was Odemwingie’s career long, but it was varied too. Born in Uzbekistan, he’s played in Nigeria, Belgium, France, Russia, Wales, Indonesia, and even Yorkshire.
But his three hugely successful years at The Hawthorns, which yielded a club record 30 Premier League goals and cemented his place in the hearts of many Baggies, left an indelible mark on him. He still calls this area home.
“I’ve always lived here since playing for Albion,” he said. “Even when I played for Stoke I lived here, just travelled 40 minutes up the M6.
“My kids settled quite well here, they go to school in Sutton Coldfield, I see some of my former team-mates around.”
Because he’s still nearby, Odemwingie has joined Albion’s Former Players’ Association run by Geoff Snape.
Going to the games allows him to catch up with his former team-mates but also watch one of his new friends, Sam Johnstone.
It’s a curious relationship because Johnstone, 12 years his junior, was in the Manchester United academy when Odemwingie was rifling in goals for Albion.
“We met at The Belfry through a mutual friend who is a physiotherapist in Stoke and we play a lot of golf together,” revealed the former striker.
“Sam is a friend, of course he’s an active player and I’m a family man so we don’t see each other often but he’s a good lad.”
After retiring from football, Odemwingie has turned his competitive juices towards golf, and this interview was conducted after his round in the British Par 3 Championship at Nailcote Hall in Warwickshire this summer.
“I’m playing regularly,” he said. “I haven’t played football competitively for a year so I play a bit of golf. My handicap is down to six now, so not too bad.”
He’s still recognised by Albion fans while walking around the streets of Sutton, but even after six years, it doesn’t grow weary.
Scoring a hat-trick at Molineux in the last meeting between the Black Country rivals means Odemwingie is destined to go down in Albion folklore.
“They get up photos of my time with the Baggies, most are from the Wolves match, which is understandable,” he says, as a smile spreads across his face.
“It was an amazing day and something I will carry into retirement. I will never tire of re-watching the highlights of the game and show my kids that. Hopefully they’ll be motivated as well to achieve something good.”
He hopes there might one day be another Odemwingie donning the blue and white stripes of the Baggies.
“I have two sons, six and five, and a daughter who is three. The second boy, Theo, looks like he’s got it!
“I was going to ask The Albion Foundation what age they start the academy. I’ll put Theo in the academy and let him grow and see how he gets on, I see he has it.
“He’s a very determined and competitive boy, he has a bit of talent.
“He’s a striker, he loves the target. I’m in the goal, he puts the ball down for penalty and I can already tell in his eyes he’s picked his spot and he guides it right there. He has a spot for a goal!”
Theo sounds just like his dad, even if Odemwingie senior is moving on to new targets now.