'There's no ceiling for this fella' - how Norwich City discovered Omobamidele
- Credit: Leixlip FC
Andrew Omobamidele's rapid rise through the ranks at Norwich City has caught a few people by surprise.
Last December, the teenager signed a new deal with the club to take him until 2024, but few expected the progress that followed in the months thereafter. Omobamidele's development at Carrow Road has surpassed expectations and he is now a consistent option in the first-team for Daniel Farke.
There is plenty of excitement about his potential inside the corridors of power at Colney. At 19, Omobamidele is boasting a better physical profile than Ben Godfrey did at the same point of his development.
He is the latest of a line of exciting talent to emerge through the club's academy, but the vast majority of his footballing education took place in his native Ireland at Leixlip United, the club City signed him from back in 2018.
Then, the softly spoken centre back was described as an 'introvert' by long time coach and mentor Kenny Molloy who nurtured the youngster's talent from the point he first arrived at the club as a wide eyed nine-year-old.
When he joined the Irish club, there was a period of frustration for the youngster as he was told to train with the B team whilst the majority of his friends were placed in the club's A team set up.
That frustration was used as fuel to improve and Omobamidele was often seen hopping the fence at Leixlip to get onto the pitch so he could continue his development after most had elected to go home for the day.
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"He was extremely raw, contrary and an introvert [when he came in]," Molloy said. "It took time to build Andrew up because he was quiet enough.
"He had such a good personality where he would be contrary with me but when he was in there he would roll the sleeves up and get on with the players on his team. But he was very raw, and I don't think he knew how good he could be.
"He was always in the club training with the younger and older lads. The problem was getting Andrew out of the club.
"I used to get calls from Tony. our groundsman, saying that he hopped the fence again [to get in and play]. But they just gave up and gave him the key [eventually] and they would leave balls out for him.
"He was the first one in and the last one out. I used to drop him home in the car and to get him home I had to turn off the floodlights just to get him into the car. Once he got into it, was a case of getting him home."
Molloy and Leixlip identified Omobamidele's potential at an early stage in his career and believed he was destined for great things.
The defender had one fixture in particular against the esteemed St Joseph's College (Joeys) where he stifled highly-rated striker Mipo Odubeko, now Huddersfield Town forward, and restricted him to very little.
That performance prompted a conversation between Molloy and late Manchester United scout Larry Dunne, who compared Omobamidele to Irish legend Paul McGrath. The ex-Aston Villa defender was tweeting praise for the City man during the recent international break.
United didn't back up that interest but the defender did head to England to trial with Leeds United, Rotherham and Stoke. One club struck a mutual agreement with Omobamidele, before reversing on that decision at the last minute.
"There was a game against Joeys [when we were in the DDSL top league], a really good Joeys side, that included Mipo [Odubeko], when I realised how good he can be," Molloy told Irish media outlet Balls.ie.
"That was the day I felt I was looking at someone who could be different class. After the game we were approached by Larry Dunne, the Manchester United scout.
"He came over to me and said that it reminded him of a young Paul McGrath, and that was something that I was afraid to admit.
"That was the comparison I would have made, and that was how he performed on that day. You're always going to be biased about your player.
"But when you have a Manchester United scout coming to you and saying the same it gives you belief. He kicked on from that and was getting interest.
"After Larry [Dunne] there wasn't much interest. There was no ceiling to Andrew and in matches he was probably only just doing enough and then showed glimpses of pure class.
"At times it was easy for him and it was about trying to get the best out of him.
"He wasn't picked for many DDSL squads, and I don't blame them now on reflection because they weren't sure of him. I spoke to a few scouts who thought the same thing, and they weren't sure if they were able to take a gamble on him.
"He went over to a few clubs and there was one club in particular who had a mutual agreement to sign and then I got a call to say that they were not taking him. He was really disappointed and he had a number of really close calls like that."
After an increased effort to get Omobamidele a move to England, Norwich came calling after being impressed with his performances in two cup competitions.
The Canaries invited the defender for a trial, and after spotting his considerable potential, decided to offer him a professional deal despite a 6-0 defeat to Chelsea in an academy match.
Despite Omobamidele being delighted at the prospect of signing for Norwich, progressing his development in England and hoping to fulfil a lifelong dream of playing Premier League football, his mother called Molloy to ensure they were making the right decision at an important stage of her son's life.
"The League of Ireland was starting to come in then and he wasn't getting as much interest," Molloy explained.
"But at that stage he was starting to fill out his boots and developing more physically. He then got interest [after playing] in the Milk and Galway Cup.
"He then went over to Norwich and did okay in the first trial and then he did a little bit better in his next one.
"We felt that the worst case scenario would bring him into the League of Ireland so we thought why not try to keep pushing him to go to England.
"But we, even then, didn't know if it was right to keep bringing him over because of the impact it was having on him mentally.
"His mother even pulled me aside to ask if this was the right thing to do, and she was right to be worried about him. She was his mother.
"They lost 6-0 to Chelsea but he rang me to tell me that they were going to keep him and it was just elation.
"It was more relief than anything. I spoke to Norwich and they said to me that they weren't taking Andrew to Norwich on what he was there and then, but it was where they thought he could be and that's what we thought at Leixlip.
"That was just music to our ears."
When Omobamidele returns to Ireland, he visits his former club regularly and even joins in training with the academy groups.
He remains on first name terms with the majority of staff at the club. Those at his former club couldn't be prouder of a player they helped to reach the Premier League with Norwich City and international stage with Ireland.
"There's no ceiling for this fella," Molloy said.
"He's 19 and every time I watch him there's improvement. He's not finished, there's still more growing in him but the stuff he was doing the other night was stuff we saw him doing at Leixlip but he's doing it quicker, faster and stronger against much better opponents."