In his own words: Michael Obafemi on his Irish roots and why we all owe his mother a debt of gratitude

In April 2019, halfway through his recovery from a hamstring injury that his Southampton boss Ralph Hasenhuttl described as a “disaster” for the youngster, Michael Obafemi traveled to his hometown.

During a promotional visit to Dublin, the then 18-year-old explained why he was eligible to wear the green shirt.

It was a close call!

If his mother Bola had not made a trip to the Irish capital to visit relatives at the end of her pregnancy in the summer of 2000, there would have been no assistance from world class for Troy Parrott.

There would have been no world-class strike, which quickly sparked a debate over whether a better goal had ever been scored by the Boys in Green.

“I know I was born in Dublin, my mum was visiting her sisters,” Obafemi said in 2019.

“I think I moved back to London a few weeks later where I grew up. I didn’t stay too long [in Dublin] but when I come here, I always feel like I’m at home.

The Fair City feels even more like home for the 21-year-old, who grew up in Chingford, these days.

His mum, Dublin-based sisters and some of Obafemi’s cousins ​​were at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday to witness his unforgettable first senior international start.

Bola rarely misses an opportunity to see his son in action. The devoted mother, according to Obafemi, shows up “even when I’m on the bench… I’m grateful for that.”

She was in Aarhus for her debut under Martin O’Neill. His late introduction was the only moment of consequence in an otherwise lackluster Nations League draw with Denmark.

Irishman Michael Obafemi kisses his mother Bola after the game

Obafemi had played at Under-17, 19 and 21 for Ireland before his senior arc in November 2018.

It was at this time that the Declan Rice saga was in full swing. The three-time Hammers ace had opted out of this campaign to avoid being linked with Ireland.

A few months later, Rice confirmed her change.

What does Obafemi, who also qualified for England and Nigeria, think?

“I didn’t really pay attention to any of that because I didn’t think it was a big deal,” he said when visiting Dublin in 2019.

“The media created a bigger problem than it was. I always knew I would play for Ireland.

“I didn’t really pay attention to Declan’s situation. I knew myself that I would play for Ireland. It was the only one of three [that I wanted to represent].

“I played all the way, well, not all the way but from the U17s. I haven’t (seen) the need to change. This is where I was born and where I should stay.

He was reminded of reports that Nigerian football officials were trying to convince him to choose them, communicating their interest to family members.

“I saw this and laughed, it’s just funny. I don’t want to say anything bad about it, but it’s crap,” he said bluntly.

“My mother supports my decision, my brother [Affy], everyone is united. They asked me what I wanted to do, I said what I wanted to do and they supported me.

“I do not have [get an approach from England] and even if they had, I don’t think I would have gone anyway.

And so Obafemi, who spent the first weeks of his life in Dublin, decided that was the country he wanted to represent.

Almost four years after his first senior cap and after his magical performance against Scotland, we can thank Bola and his timely vacation plans.

Our gratitude must also extend to one of the most important – and lesser-known – contributors to Irish international football.

“I think it was [London-based scout] Mark O’Toole, he talked to my agent and got things done,” Obafemi explained.

So that’s the story of Obafemi’s rise as an Ireland international.

In terms of club level, around the time O’Toole made contact, Obafemi was breaking into Southampton’s first team.

After playing in the Sunday League before bouncing around at a few London clubs, including Watford, as a youngster he moved to St Mary’s, where he made his first-team debut in January 2018.

Not before taking a year between Watford and Leyton Orient between the ages of 14 and 15, when many of his peers were honing their skills at top academies.

He was Southampton’s second youngest player in the Premier League behind Luke Shaw when he came on as a substitute against Tottenham.

Obafemi wrote his name in the club’s history books when he became their youngest Premier League goalscorer, with a strike in December against Huddersfield.

He scored five first-team goals in just under 40 appearances, including an injury-time equalizer against Manchester United at Old Trafford.

It wasn’t enough to convince his Saints payers he should stay – and they sold him to Swansea for around €2m last summer.

It’s a decision they may regret now that he’s found his feet at the Welsh club, scoring 11 goals in his last 19 games, and at international level, where his strike against Scotland has quickly become viral on social media.

Off the pitch, Obafemi remembers being the “class clown” at school, as he was always laughing.

It shows in his dynamic style of play, his carefree attitude on the pitch and his sense of humor off it.

Asked by Sky Sports after the game against Scotland why Ireland looked so much more energetic than in previous matches, he replied: “Me!”

“Just kidding,” he quickly continued, grinning broadly.

Thanks to his goal and his assist, we have another hero in this young Irish team.

And thanks to his personality, we have another great character in Stephen Kenny’s dressing room.

But ultimately, it’s thanks to Bola and his vacation plans nearly 22 years ago.

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Julio V. Miller