Nathan Oduwa: My family didn’t think it was a good move for me

Nathan Oduwa has always been a player touted as having a bright future. He grew up in Tottenham Hotspurs’ academy and was a regular goal scorer for their youth sides. He also enjoyed a very successful loan spell with Rangers in 2015 so it’s fair to say you wouldn’t expect to see him playing in Slovenia now.

“I thought it was a good opportunity to get regular first team playing time,” he says, when asked what convinced him to sign a three-year deal with Olimpija Ljubljana in February 2017. “A chance to get seen by other countries rather than just teams in the UK,” he adds.

At the age of 22, Oduwa still has a long career ahead of him and nothing is better for a youngster trying to find his feet in the game than regular game time but the move still seemed like a massive step into the unknown for the former England U20 international.

Oduwa in action for England U18s

“My agent told me that he had got into contact with a club from Slovenia called Olimpija. I wasn’t interested at first because I didn’t know anything about them and thought football was not as big over there as it is in England.

“My family didn’t think it was a good move for me either but they always support me with whatever decision I make.”

Despite that, Oduwa decided to dive in head-first into a whole new start and it was exactly what the youngster from Bloomsbury, London needed. After his loan spell in Glasgow in 2015, the winger had failed to make a single senior league start in over a year, despite loan spells at Colchester United and Peterborough, a far cry from his time in Scotland.

At the age of just 20 when he made the move, Oduwa was now out in Slovenia all by himself and he admits at first that he was hard to adapt, not that he shied away from the challenge.

“It was difficult [at first] because it’s a completely different culture to the UK.

“Adapting to the playing style, the conditions of the pitches and the atmosphere for games was difficult but it’s a good challenge for me to come out of my comfort zone and experience life away from the UK alone.”

Starring for Olimpija

Oduwa has now been at Olimpija for over a year now and is starting to enjoy life in his new surroundings.

“Life is quite chilled here,” he says. “I guess it’s because it’s a small country. I’ve learnt small phrases to help me get by as well.

“I live in Ljubljana which is the capital of Slovenia and when I have free time I go to the city centre with my friends and teammates when the weather is good or I relax at home when the weather is not so good.”

This season has seen the 22-year-old pick up fairly regular game time for Olimpija who are top of the table in Slovenia albeit it has come through a mixture of starts and substitute appearances. His 17 league appearances so far this season had yielded two goals and two assists, fairly impressive from 800 minutes of action. He also made his debut in senior European football as well, having made a couple of appearances in the Europa League qualifying rounds earlier this season.

Those stats though, do not compare to the aforementioned loan spell he had at Rangers however, where he picked a remarkable five assists and also a goal from 15 league appearances in the Scottish Championship. He also attempted an audacious rainbow flick in a match against Alloa Athletic which so nearly came off and it’s clear that the club still holds a place in Oduwa’s heart.

“I have a very special love for Rangers. That was the first time I truly felt free and happy on and off the field because we weren’t just good friends on the field, we were like a family off the field as well.

“If they were ever interested, I would definitely have an interest in going back.”

Footage of Oduwa’s rainbow flick

For now the winger is focusing on his club football in Slovenia and despite a hope of playing international football again, whether that be for England or Nigeria who he has also represented, he makes it clear that Olimpija are his focus.

Despite this, he still allows himself a brief thought of what the future could hold.

“I want to come back to the UK someday and play in the Premier League,” he says. “I’d love to play in any of the top five leagues as well.”

Moving abroad may have been an eye-opening experience for Oduwa but that does not mean he would not recommend the opportunity to other young English footballers if the chance ever arose.

“Yeah I would [recommend it]. I think it’s good to come out of your comfort zone and experience different cultures.

“Just don’t change for anyone because I know you know what’s best for you and do what makes you happy – that’s it really!”

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