Omobamidele on his marks ahead of Mbappé showdown

The Norwich City centre half backs himself in a foot race with the Les Bleus talisman.
Omobamidele on his marks ahead of Mbappé showdown

Andrew Omobamidele at a Republic of Ireland press conference at FAI Headquarters in Abbotstown on Monday. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Lansdowne Road’s green surface could morph into an Olympic track next Monday if Kylian Mbappé accepts an invitation to a sprint from Andrew Omobamidele.

There are fine margins between France and Ireland’s speedsters according to the electronic testers.

Mbappé is officially the joint-fastest player in Ligue One, flashing past defenders at velocity clocking 36 kilometres per hour.

Norwich City apply a different metric to track their players but the results generate some solace for Ireland if Omobamidele is pitted against the recent World Cup golden boot winner in their Euro qualification opener.

“He is quick but I’d like to think I’m quick as well,” replied the 20-year-old with a grin when asked about shackling the French superstar.

“I’d love to do a foot race to see how quick I am!” 

“At Norwich, we work off metres-per-second and the quickest I’ve run is 10.4m-per-second. I don’t know what Mbappé’s is, but we’ll see.” 

A dash challenge the full house would also love to see.

A standardised comparison of their times posits the Irishman slightly ahead but that’s discounting the white heat of dualling at top international level.

Mbappé has been there and done most, winning the World Cup final and losing another despite bagging a hat-trick against Argentina, whereas the elevation of Omobamidele was grounded by a series of injuries.

A blitz of pinch-me moments had preceded his bout of bad luck. From his senior Ireland debut in September 2021, marking Cristiano Ronaldo, the Leixlip native made five appearances apiece for Ireland and Norwich in the Premier League.

Strikers in the ilk of Ronaldo, Harry Kane, Nicolas Pépé, Kai Havertz and Aleksandar Mitrović had to be minded, offering the teenage rookie a crash-course in central-defensive education.

It was a whirlwind he hadn’t time to absorb but the litany of injuries presented too much time to overthink.

Worst of all ailments was the stress fracture in his back, not simply for the pain and discomfort but the uncertain prognosis.

Gone was half of his first Premier League season, compounded by injury ruining last term too and it’s only now, 17 months on from his last Ireland assignment, that he's made his international comeback.

“I’d emerged onto the scene early but went from the highs to the lowest point where all I could do was rest,” he explained.

“A stress fracture is not like a normal injury that you do rehab on. My back just completely shut down, forcing me to wear a back brace all day. I could only take it off when sleeping.

“That was my life for six months. It was the first time in my whole career that I was out for more than a month.

“Looking back now, it was difficult. It made me find my way in certain areas that maybe I wouldn’t have found.” 

Even still, given the serious strain his body shipped, the workload of Omobamidele is managed by his club. Crucially for his mobility, back pain is non-existent.

"When we played a pre-season friendly, my teammates at half-time and they were saying 'How's your back?' and I was like 'It's gone, I don't feel it'. That was probably the moment I knew I was okay.” 

Concern over enduring muscle injuries is behind David Wagner’s careful control of his Academy graduate’s minutes but he won’t be holding back if Wednesday's audition in the friendly against Latvia earns involvement for when Les Bleus rock up to Dublin 4.

“I’d embrace it,” he beamed, visualising the man-marking job on Mbappé.

“I think everyone agrees he’s a good player but it's the ultimate test to see where you are as a player.

“After the game, you are walking off knowing that it's the toughest test for any defender in the world.

“I kind of got thrown into my Ireland debut against Ronaldo, the Premier League too, and facing these stop strikers was something I loved.” 

After sorting out his back, he’s back for more.

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