On 22 January, Odisha FC made the trip to the Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru hoping to continue charting the upward trajectory that had fetched them four victories on the bounce. Subsequently, they found themselves in pole position to qualify, courtesy their tally of 21 points from 12 matches.
However, against the defending champions, the Juggernauts were brought crashing down to earth in a tense first half, wherein they shipped two goals, thereby embodying the deficiencies that still existed in their machinery.
More importantly though, the opening 45 minutes saw Aridane Santana hobble off, much to the dismay of the hundreds who had travelled from Odisha.
Unsurprisingly, several opined that the Juggernauts’ season was primed to unravel, considering the impact the Spaniard had had in 2019-20.
A few hours later though, in a rather intriguing turn of events, Odisha brought on board a replacement, although his procurement was looked upon skeptically. To put things into perspective, they’d acquired Manuel Onwu, a Spaniard that hadn’t particularly set the world ablaze at Bengaluru FC.
Yet, at Odisha, the striker immediately got into his stride and proved his credentials the first time he started for Josep Gombau’s side against FC Goa. Though the Gaurs eventually came through 4-2 at the Kalinga Stadium, the hosts’ ability to not baulk at a three-goal deficit and instead fight fire with fire impressed those in attendance.
In an exclusive chat with Sportskeeda, Onwu opened up on how he adapted to the Juggernauts’ requirements during the formative stages of his spell and how he fitted into the club like a glove.
The beginning of my season [at BFC] wasn’t great as I had a few injuries. But, I am fortunate that Josep Gombau gave me the opportunity to play here. And, it is true that we create a lot of chances here [at Odisha] and I am glad that I was able to score to settle myself.
Furthermore, the brand of football deployed by the Blues and the Juggernauts varies significantly, considering the latter’s propensity to attack at pace whereas the former tends to keep things compact and tight before going for the kill.
Unsurprisingly, a target man of the ilk of Onwu has flourished at Odisha, in light of the number of crosses and of course, chances that have been churned out. He quipped,
I have always played as a target man and I feel comfortable playing like that. At Odisha, the playing style also suits me and it makes the most of my abilities. If you see, I have scored all my goals from first touches here and that makes me feel very comfortable. My teammates feed me with the chances inside the box and that is great for a striker like me.
Over the course of the current campaign, Gombau has drawn rave reviews from across the country, especially due to his proclivity to stick to his guns and a lack of tepidity when opting for slightly more left-field alternatives.
In fact, the Spaniard’s propensity to unfurl an unheralded trick when faced with the most adverse of circumstances majorly contributed to the decision of acquiring a striker that was down the pecking order at the defending champions, despite the Blues struggling for goals. Rather unsurprisingly, Onwu profusely praised his manager, stating,
The coach trusted me completely, and he gave me the requisite confidence and minutes to score those goals. I am happy to be a part of this set-up.
Unfortunately, the sheer number of goals Onwu has scored has not translated into tangible results, meaning that the Juggernauts need a host of outcomes to go their way, if they are to make the top four.
Yet, that hasn’t fazed the Spanish striker, who seemed upbeat a few days prior to the clash against the Kerala Blasters, despite knowing that it could be the final game the club plays in 2019-20.
As the coach says, we are still mathematically in with a chance. It’s true that we need Chennaiyin and Mumbai’ results to go our way but what we have to do is to win our game and keep our end of the bargain.
If the above is to materialize though, one reckons that the Juggernauts might need the vociferous support of their faithful at the Kalinga Stadium on the 23rd of February. Onwu, too, stated how crucial the fans’ role could be on Sunday, quipping,
The atmosphere and the fans have been amazing so far and I feel fortunate to be a part of this team and the club. They inspired us to come back against NorthEast United and their support also helped us draw level with FC Goa. So it gives a strong feeling and I am totally looking forward to it.
Thus, despite the magnitude of the task awaiting Odisha FC on the 23rd, Onwu seemed pretty relaxed and looked a striker that had re-invented himself after a slightly patchy start at Bengaluru FC.
Yet, one reckons that nothing would satisfy the striker more than helping the Juggernauts reach the semi-finals, especially considering the euphoria it would bring to those in Bhubaneshwar.
After all, if the above were to happen, Onwu, who was often panned as the most uninspiring signing in the 2019 off-season, would end up silencing a plethora of critics.
Most importantly though, it would add to the narrative of how a footballer can be termed a mis-fit at a particular club, only to morph into the Guardian Angel of another.Published 20 Feb 2020, 13:30 IST