Denis Odoi admits he was ‘massively relieved’ that Fulham won the Championship play-off final after his sending off led to a nervy last twenty minutes against Aston Villa at Wembley – and the defender is relishing the prospect of playing in the Premier League.
The Belgian utility man, speaking to FulhamFC TV as the Whites returned to Motspur Park for pre-season training this morning, disclosed how he experienced the full range of emotions on that unforgettable day last month as Slavisa Jokanovic’s side beat Aston Villa to return to the top flight. Odoi felt he had been playing well as Tim Ream’s central defensive partner before being shown a second yellow card for a mistimed challenge on Jack Grealish.
First of all, it was excitement and happiness of walking onto the pitch at Wembley. The atmosphere was great. Then, obviously scoring [through Tom Cairney] was an unbelievable feeling and after the first half I was happy. I was playing a good first half, I was confident. I think I was unlucky with the [first] yellow card. I don’t think it was a yellow card, but the referee gave it.
I knew I was on a yellow card. I’ve been on yellow cards often. It was a good lesson for me as well – to know that now, in the Premier League, some of the guys are going to be faster and, on that occasion, Grealish was a little bit faster on the ball. I was pretty confident I was going to be first to the ball, but he was faster and then my leg was already swinging, so it was difficult for me to pull back. It was a big disappointment for me – and then it was twenty minutes of nerves and praying and all kinds of things!
I was looking at the screen in the dressing room and there’s no time on it. That was really horrible. I had no idea how long was left. I went into the tunnel, where we go up to the pitch, and there was another screen with time and, obviously, when the ref whistled, I was so happy and relieved. I just sprinted to join the guys. I must say, I think it would have been a different feeling if I was still on the pitch. Obviously, I was happy but it felt like I almost messed it up.
One of the iconic moments following the final whistle came with Odoi cavorting on the crossbar in front of the Fulham fans – something which he reveals he has done before.
I’ve done it before in Belgium also once when we were the champions. Getting up was not the problem – then afterwards my leg got stuck in the ropes and I was having trouble getting down! It was excitement and we were having a party and singing with the fans was just great.
Odoi even believes that Fulham might be able to take lessons from how they held out at Wembley into the new season.
Everybody knew that they had to dig in and that’s what they did. Maybe we need to remember that when we are running now in pre-season as well that sometimes it’s not about having the ball, but about doing the things off the ball that’s going to help you win games – especially now in the Premier League, where we’re maybe going to have less of the ball than we’re used to.
The 30 year-old is eager to get started after what he described as ‘a busy holiday’ and can’t wait for some of the serious examinations that Fulham will face during their pre-season programme.
There are some games I’m looking forward to. I’m looking forward to the Sampdoria game because I have a really good friend who plays there and for us it is going to be a great test because you are playing Lyon and a lot of good teams. That’s the sort of competition we are going to be up against. I know I need to work hard during pre-season knowing that I won’t be able to play the first game and work hard to show the gaffer that I’m ready to go.