O’Dea: ISL will get stronger and stronger

Mumbai City FC Irish centre-back Darren O’Dea spoke to Sportstar about his footballing adventures while also chipping in about the Republic of Ireland’s chances at Euro 2016.

Darren O'dea of Mumbai City FC.   -  The Hindu

Darren O'Dea FC waves to the crowd at the D.Y. Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai.   -  ISL/SPORTZPICS

Darren O’Dea’s journey as a professional football player has seen him see travel from Scotland to England, from the United States to Ukraine and now he is in India, playing for Mumbai City FC. Not a path you would expect an Irish football player to take. O’Dea spoke to Sportstar about his footballing adventures while also chipping in about the Republic’s chances at Euro 2016.

Why do Mumbai City FC find themselves second from bottom in the ISL table?

I think in football, sometimes there are really little margins. We have conceded last minute goals against Delhi, Kerala and we should have beaten Pune as well. If we had taken points from these games, we would have been one of the forerunners to claim a semis spot. So if you come out of these small margins on the other side, you can be in a completely different position. At one point, we were in a position that if we had won, we could’ve gone top of the league and had we lost, we would have been out of contention for the semis. Only the Indian Super League can give you that! This is why you need to be at your best throughout the whole season. It has obviously been disappointing but everyone can learn from this experience — the club and the players.

Midfielder Andre Moritz and assistant coach Oscar Bruzon left the club midway through the season for alleged spats with the manager. What impact did it have on the dressing room?

It did not have that much of an impact. They were two separate incidents and only the people who were involved will know what exactly happened. We have good coaches and we have a really good squad, I feel arguably the best one in the league. I know we have not proven that on the pitch, so that is very disappointing. But these things happen in football. It is not always plain sailing. In a league like this, sometimes decisions have to be made very quickly because you can’t let the problems linger. These decisions were not made by the players. We have gotten on very well amongst ourselves and there is a good mood around the squad.

What has your assessment of the Indian players and ISL been?

The Indian players have been fantastic. Outside, people think there is a great divide between both sets of players. But we don’t look at ourselves as Indians and foreigners, we are a team. I think Mumbai City FC have arguably got the best Indian players from what I have seen. In Subrata (Paul), we have a top goalkeeper and he has been around for a long time. Our full-backs Ashu (Ashutosh Mehta), Rowi (Rowilson Rodrigues) and Kingshuk (Debnath) are really good.

I think Mumbai City FC have arguably got the best Indian players from what I have seen.

We’ve obviously got India’s David Beckham (Sunil Chhetri)! I knew he was going to be a quality football player and his work ethic is fantastic. I have been impressed.

The league is a lot better than what I thought it would be. It has been commercialised really well; it’s on TV, it’s everywhere. The way we are looked after and treated is second to none. There are some really top clubs here. I have no doubt it’s going to get stronger and stronger.

Usually we see European footballers move to the Major League Soccer (MLS) in the United States at the later stage of their careers. Why did you decide to go there at the age of 25?

I think I am part of a new trend which is seeing players move there slightly earlier than they used to. The MLS has grown tremendously in the last three years or so and I expect that to continue. I chose it because of this very reason and had a terrific time. The plan at the time was to go there and sign a long-term deal but in football, things change.

Do you think the ISL can take something from the MLS and grow in stature?

Yes, I think the MLS is a very good example of how a league should come up. It is a bit different from the ISL but I think the organisers can definitely take advice on how to go about it and make it better. I’ve been really excited to be a part of both these leagues. They are new, fresh and there is a lot of enthusiasm around. It is great to be involved in both.

You were playing for Metalurh Donetsk in the Ukrainian Premier League when the Crimean crisis began. What was your experience?

It was a very difficult time. The club was fantastic and they had amazing facilities. I went there because they had ambition and wanted to be in Europe. We actually qualified but ended up being axed for reason off the field. When the political crisis began, football actually suffered the least. It’s the people that suffered the most and I felt really sorry for them. But I really enjoyed my time with the club and there are some fantastic football players in Ukraine. A lot of Brazilians and other South Americans who are technically very good. I learnt a lot there, in fact the most in one year than I have anywhere else in my career.

Having had a short spell at Blackpool, what made you come to the ISL?

Blackpool was a stop-gap. I broke my ankle just as I left Ukraine and I used Blackpool to just get my fitness levels up again. It was a club that had problems and it was not my first choice option. It was a stepping stone to move on. I actually could have signed for Mumbai last season but I did not feel fit enough and did not feel like I would do myself justice. I opted for Blackpool instead and when this opportunity came again, I took it.

You have amassed 20 caps for the Republic of Ireland. They have qualified for Euro 2016. How would you rate their chances?

Being seeded low, it is going to be really difficult and we are going to get a tough group. When I was in the squad, we qualified for Euro 2012 and we ended up getting Croatia, Spain and Italy. Two of those went all the way to the final and Croatia, who were a fantastic side at the time, were also unlucky to be in that group. All in all, I think it will be fantastic for the country to be involved in the tournament. The fans will go there in big numbers to support the team like they always do.

Being seeded low, it is going to be really difficult and we are going to get a tough group.

I think there is nothing to lose. They will go there with confidence and express themselves. They are not expected to do great things but with the dressing room and the manager they have, they will be quietly confident that they can do well.

Roy Keane is the assistant manager of the national team. How big an impact do you think he has had on the squad?

Roy signed me on loan when he was the manager of Ipswich so I have worked with him as a manager. He is a leader and has always been even during his playing days. He brings a wealth of experience and is arguably Ireland’s best ever international. I am sure he brings a lot to the table.

The last few national squads have had players from the lower tiers of the English league. Why do you think Irish players are not being able to play at the highest level?

They are asking this question everywhere you go, even in Scotland. Years ago, you had Irish players playing for Manchester United, Liverpool and Tottenham and now it’s not the same. I believe the main reason for that is the influx of foreign players in England. There are so many of them coming in and at a young age. They are signing for English academies in their early teens and the country representation in the Premier League and the Championship is increasing.

But it is up to the Irish Football Association to make sure that their players are given the best possible chance and the best possible education to make them as good as these foreign players. I don’t think there is a problem with foreign players coming in. It is up to the Irish players to be as good as them. The grassroots programs need to be as good as the ones in Spain and Germany for us to have any chance to catch up with players from there.

Off the field, what are your thoughts on India?

The people are fantastic, very different to what I’m used to. I’m used to confrontational people and Indians are far from that. They are quieter but very friendly. So I think the people are the best part of the country that I’ve seen. And I think I’ll get a big shock when I go back home!

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