COMMENT By Solace Chukwu Follow on Twitter
Cameroon opened their Fifa Confederations Cup campaign against Chile on Sunday, and in so doing, moved ahead of both Nigeria and Egypt (both on two) for most appearances at the tournament. Fittingly, it is the Indomitable Lions that have come closest to winning the competition, beaten by Thierry Henry’s extra time goal in the final of the 2003 edition, the last time the competition did not serve as a World Cup dress rehearsal.
Much of Africa’s history at the tournament then has root in these three nations. The likes of Hossam Hassan, Samuel Eto’o, Daniel Amokachi, Mohamed Aboutrika and Emmanuel Amuneke have shone here, all greats of the continent’s game. However, in one particular stake, this array of excellent forwards is upstaged in the most spectacular fashion.
There is still only one African player with a claim to a Confederations Cup hat-trick, or indeed a hat-trick at a senior Fifa tournament. His name is Nnamdi Oduamadi, and he is on the books of AC Milan. That is, at least, until the end of the month, after which his contract will expire and he will be a free agent.
If that has you reaching for the warmth of Google’s assured hand in the dark, you are not alone.
Many a career has been launched by this very competition, with household names such as Marcelo Zalayeta and Ronaldinho (remember him?) announcing themselves to the world, in 1997 and 1999 respectively. For Oduamadi though, that was hardly necessary: by the time he put Oceania champions Tahiti to the sword in 2013, he had been on Milan’s books for four years.
Just shy of 20, Oduamadi joined Milan from the Pepsi Football Academy, having apparently caught the eye. Now 26, the forward’s claim to fame, aside the triple in Belo Horizonte, is probably as the answer to obscure footballing trivia – he has been loaned out eight times since 2010, to seven different clubs, which is surely some kind of record.
The world of football is of course replete with prodigies who have failed to live up to their potential, but few have managed to not do so quite so spectacularly.
Fewer still have earned the nickname 'Robinho' back in their home country, even though the forward has another Brazilian footballing great on his bedroom wall poster. “My idol is Ronaldo. Yes, Ronaldo, il Fenomeno,” he gushed in 2013, hoping his opener against Tahiti was worthy of the two-time World Player of the Year.
Ironically, he may not have made the squad at all to Brazil. There was initial consternation when he was first called up to the national team by the late Stephen Keshi. He debuted in 2012 in a friendly against Peru, but would have to wait a year later for a second cap.
His 15-minute cameo was effectual though, capped with a late goal to salvage a draw and rescue the Super Eagles from certain embarrassment in a home World Cup qualifier against Kenya.
At the time, he was on loan with Varese, who had narrowly missed out on promotion to Serie A before his arrival, in a first of two separate spells. He has played eight times in Serie B, only five of those starts, scoring once and laying on another. There was nothing about him that justified a call-up.
Keshi praised his work rate and application though, as well as his ability to go past players. That latter has always been his biggest strength – Oduamadi is routinely rated as one of the world’s fastest players in the FIFA 17 database.
His awkward coordination on the ball though, as well as hit-and-miss (more miss than hit, in truth) decision-making and his inability to link up effectively with teammates made for a rather frustrating package.
He made a couple of more contributions in green and white, most notably winning a penalty in a 2-0 home win over Malawi in another World Cup qualifier, but he was culled from the squad for the competition proper. It mirrored some of his disappointment in missing out on the U-20 World Cup in 2009 due to injury.
If one dream should fall and break into a pieces,never be afraid to pick one of those pieces up and begin again.Tank you LORD 4 everything — Nnamdi Oduamadi (@oduamadi7) June 3, 2014
There was a brief, cruel final ray of hope at Milan, following an impressive spell on loan with HJK Helsinki in Finland. Some reports suggested Rossoneri boss Vincenzo Montella had been sufficiently impressed by his performances to recall him to San Siro for the second half of the season.
“My holidays have been cut short now," he began hopefully. "Hopefully, I will get a chance to show what I can do.”
He however made no appearances for Milan, and will be released at the end of his contract this month.
He still has many years of football to look forward to, being young. However, it is unlikely he will ever again hit the heights of that June afternoon in Belo Horizonte; he last featured for the Super Eagles in a friendly against Scotland in 2014. It is unlikelier still that, seeing as Cameroon’s forward line is not a position of great strength, his record will be disturbed any time soon.
Then again, one never knows with these things.
After all, he was an unlikely hero himself four years ago, albeit against minnows Tahiti. Perhaps that is the lesson, the defining theme of Oduamadi’s career: every now and again, even the ordinary is capable of transcending its own circumstances and, by extension, itself.