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Fulham defender Denis Odoi haunted by red card

last updated Friday 28th September 2018, 10:14 PM


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Fulham defender Denis Odoi discusses the horror of his play-off final red card, being naughtier than Dries Mertens at school and how his love of coffee may lead him to open a London cafe

“I was thinking I would need to call my agent and look for a new club,” Denis Odoi says as he remembers the stress of watching the closing stages of last season’s Championship play-off final in Fulham’s dressing room at Wembley.

Odoi had been reduced to the role of spectator following his red card for a foul on Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish and all he could do was pray that his teammates would bail him out.

They were the longest 20 minutes of his life.

Alone in his thoughts, it occurred to the Belgian that he was in danger of going from hero to zero. Two weeks after scoring Fulham’s winner in the semi-final against Derby County, his season was on the verge of ending in despair.

“I had to go to the dressing room,” Odoi says. “There was a screen in there, but there was no time on it.

I had no idea how long was left. Also there was a five-second delay on the feed.

When I saw a free-kick I was like: ‘Oh my God.’ But if I didn’t hear any screaming from the Villa fans, then I knew it wasn’t a goal.

Then I went in the big hallway and there was another screen with the time on it.

“I followed the last five minutes there. I was thinking: hopefully I hadn’t messed up. Obviously if Villa had got the equaliser it would have been hard as they would have had the momentum going into extra time.”

Yet the minutes ticked away and Fulham’s 10 men regained their place in the Premier League after a four-year absence. Odoi, a signing from Lokeren in 2016, ran on to the pitch and celebrated by sitting on top of one of the goals.

He can afford to laugh at the memories now, although there has been no time for Fulham to relax. Slavisa Jokanovic’s side are in 15th place before Saturday’s trip to Everton.

Odoi thinks of recent mistakes against Brighton & Hove Albion and Manchester City and accepts that Fulham will have to be more direct at times. But he also points out that Jokanovic stayed true to his passing philosophy when the west London club were struggling last season.

“Cardiff play a totally different style to us,” Odoi says. “But they got promoted automatically. There are different ways to get promoted but this is the way our coach wants to play. The players we have are meant to play this way. Obviously when you are losing you start to doubt but the coach said we still need to believe. The teams are a little better now than in the Championship but against Burnley we showed that we can win with our style.”

Odoi, who is 5ft 10in, has benefited from Jokanovic’s decision to turn him into a centre-back at the start of last season.

“Before I was a full-back,” he says. “In Belgium a lot of forwards knew I would win headers, even if you are 6ft 3in.

I have a pretty good leap. I was always small, so I was used to jumping. It trains your muscles.

People who were tall never had to jump and then when everyone grows, they maybe only jump 20cm and the smaller guy can jump 30cm or 40cm.”

He is accustomed to being written off and was studying to become a PE teacher before making it as a footballer. The former Anderlecht defender’s high school doubled up as a football academy and the stars were Burnley’s Steven Defour and Napoli’s Dries Mertens.

“We would have meetings before training and I remember one when I was 16,” Odoi says. “It was: ‘Denis, we know you are not going to become a professional footballer.’ But now I am one of the guys who plays in the Premier League. We didn’t have the best bond, me and the teachers.

“Dries was a really good friend but he was the really talented guy so we would do things together and I would be the one who would get blamed. He was more sneaky. I would push it a little bit further.

“Then it would be: ‘Denis, you can’t come to training this week.’ It was just being silly and making jokes all the time. Then the teacher would always blame me. Dries was teacher’s pet. I just laughed. I got really good grades in school so it was a love-hate thing with me.”

Odoi never told his parents about being suspended from training. “I remember one time we had a training session and I tackled Dries. He did a very bad dive and the trainer got mad with me. ‘Ah, suspended for the rest of the week.’ I would go to school for the classes. It gave me more time to do my homework.”

He likes to pick up new hobbies and has developed a surprisingly strong passion for coffee. “Five years ago I thought it was disgusting,” Odoi says. “Then I moved to Antwerp. I enjoyed sitting in coffee shops. I would drink a mint tea and watch people. Then I decided to try some coffee with cocoa syrup and cinnamon. OK, let me try something else. A latte with some cinnamon.

“You get numb to the caffeine. You try something with more caffeine and less milk. I still don’t drink black coffee. But I drink a macchiato or a cappuccino.

Then I changed coffee shops in Antwerp and the owner became my friend. I moved from Antwerp to London and thought I needed proper coffee. I bought a proper machine where you froth your own milk.”

He starts recommending various cafes in east London. “In Spitalfields you have Climpson & Sons. Good coffee. You are putting me on the spot. You have Ozone Coffee in Old Street, Friends of Ours in Hoxton. They sell Dark Arts beans, which I like.”

Odoi is thinking about opening his own cafe one day – “Maybe in Barnes, where I live” – and he pulls out his phone to show proof of his skills as a barista. He is enjoying his quirky journey.























Source Jacob Steinberg at The Guardian
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