From PSG to Kerala Blasters: The remarkable tale of former wonderkid Bartholomew Ogbeche

Once a wonderkid at PSG, now a fan-favourite at Kerala Blasters…

One has to be really good to play in front of a very demanding crowd like that of the Manjappada week in week out and score goals.

Both Iain Hume and CK Vineeth were the club’s all-time top scorers for a certain period and deserves a mention when you talk about players who have made an impact for the Kochi-based Indian Super League (ISL) club. Enter Nigerian striker Bartholomew Ogbeche to the scene, in the summer of 2019. 

Ogbeche was like a whirlwind for a team whose goals had dried up. Here’s the statistic you should know: In the 2018-19 season, only bottom-placed Chennaiyin had scored fewer goals than Blasters’ tally of 18 goals. Last season, with Ogbeche’s striking prowess, the Yellow Army scored 29 goals and were the top scorers amidst teams who did not qualify for the playoffs and fourth overall. Of those, 15 goals (51.72%) were scored by one man alone.

As remarkable as Ogbeche’s debut in yellow was, there was nothing surprising about how he managed to succeed in India so quickly. When he joined NorthEast United in his first move to India two years ago, the player was quickly associated with the tag of having played for PSG earlier in his career. He scored 12 goals in his first-ever season in Indian football. He was a revelation at NorthEast United and Blasters were quick to sign him up after his debut season. 

Ogbeche was contracted to Paris Saint-Germain for six years and that included two loan spells away at Bastia and Metz. He couldn’t make an impact in France at the club-level but there was a lot of hype surrounding the then 17-year-old in Nigeria. The player was given the number nine shirt by the then Super Eagles manager Adegboye Onigbinde who picked him in the squad for the 2002 World Cup.

The Kerala Blasters striker last played for the Super Eagles in an international friendly against the Republic of Ireland in 2004 where he scored a brace in the 3-0 win. 

The Nigerian was expected to take off after that, during what is usually considered as peak years of a footballer. However, he turned out to be a late bloomer. 

The United Arab Emirates, Spain, Macedonia and England were his destinations in the following years except for an above-average individual season in 2009-10 with Cadiz (where he was the top scorer with nine goals).

His career took a turn for the better when he moved to the Eredivisie in 2013. He started scoring goals regularly in the Dutch league, first at Camburr and then later when he joined Willem II. In his last season with Willem II before moving to India, he had 10 goals in 13 starts, at the age of 32. Ogbeche was on fire. 

At 17 years and eight months, Ogbeche remains Nigeria’s youngest player ever to start a World Cup game (vs Argentina on June 2, 2002). He is also the country’s second-youngest player (after Femi Opabunmi) to be picked for a World Cup squad.

Ogbeche started two games in the World Cup, against Argentina and Sweden. He was up against the likes of Diego Simeone, Walter Samuel, Javier Zanetti etc in the Argentina game where he played the entire 90 minutes.

Ogbeche is one of PSG’s youngest goalscorer in all competitions (17 years and 55 days). A lot was predicted of that 17-year-old and many felt that his career wouldn’t get back on track after failing to live up to the hype as a teenager. But 18 years after signing for PSG as a potential wonderkid, he has finally turned into a superstar. 

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