There’s a fascinating interview with Fulham full back Denis Odoi in tomorrow’s Times by Henry Winter, who still remains one of the game’s most perceptive football correspondents.
I won’t breach the paywall too heavily ahead of publication, but some excerpts are worthy of note. It shouldn’t come as any surprise that our Belgian veteran believes playing at Craven Cottage is very special indeed:
“I don’t think there’s many better places to be at than Fulham. If Fulham was an established team in the Premier League it would potentially be the best club in the world to be at. Fulham’s a great family club. People are very close here. Craven Cottage is a great place to play, London’s a great city, you’re in the best part of the city, the southwest. There’s also financial backing from a great owner.
New stadiums might be nice but they don’t have much character. Craven Cottage is small but cosy to me. I really like it but the dressing rooms are horrible! For Covid, it wasn’t the best circumstances because it’s very tiny. But the Cottage is above us. It’s historic! It’s lovely that it is listed, so that’ll stay intact. The atmosphere is good. The fans are enthusiasts: ‘Oh we lost, but there’s always next week.’ ”
For me, the most striking part comes when we learn about Odoi’s insatiable appetite for improvement.
“My dad would go out and come back whenever it suited him. My mom made a decision to marry my dad also because she was pregnant with me and my sister. She was, ‘OK, I put myself in this situation so I have to take responsibility.’ That’s also why I’m very disciplined and take responsibility. When I was 12, I went on a tournament with Anderlecht, came back and my parents were divorced. My mother raised me and my sister. I know how hard she had to work in a fabric store and another store for us to have a decent life. So that’s why every day when I go to training it would be disrespectful to not work hard and not respect her efforts.”
Odoi will step in for the injured Kenny Tete again tomorrow. He’ll do so without complain and give absolutely everything. Every club needs characters like this. But Denis is particularly special – he remains a fierce competitor and perfectionist on the field, but recognises the value of community and the importance of supporters. That’s why he is a fervent supporter of the Fulham Foundation and a regular at their many events. There’s nobody more befitting of cult hero status, in my mind.