Over the years of covering Polish football, here at Rightbankwarsaw I’ve become fascinated by comparing the standard of play in England and in Poland. It’s only natural for me really, after growing up in England and with my (relatively deep) knowledge of the game there. This has resulted in many a Twitter discussion and conversations with friends who have watched football both in Poland and in England. With some Poles it’s pretty much impossible to discuss the topic, so dismissive are they of the standard of play in Poland, but with those who’ll have a serious talk about it, the main difference in play is the pace of the game in England which is far higher than that of Poland. My main conclusion is that the Polish top tier, the Ekstraklasa, is appropriately the standard of play in the English second tier, the Championship, with maybe the strongest club in Poland, Legia Warsaw, potentially being able to stay up in the Premier League.
As a result of this ongoing discussion, it’s a real coup when a player that has plied his trade in England comes over to Poland, or vice versa. One player who has made the journey from England to Poland is Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe, Legia Warsaw’s midfield creative force and someone who is considered by most commentators to be the Ekstraklasa’s star player. Vadis, signed in the summer from Norwich City, has set the Polish league alight with dominant performances for the Warsaw club and he scored an excellent goal vs Real Madrid in the Champions League. Not only is he technically gifted and able to assist and score goals himself, he’s also a physical presence, which means he is not easy to stop (although it can be done as Sunday’s match vs Jagiellonia Białystok showed). Currently he is the player driving Legia towards their second title in a row, but what was Vadis’ time like in England, did he dominate there in the same way? To find out I spoke to two fans of the clubs that Vadis played for over in England, Norwich City and Rotherham United.
Vadis Odidja-Ofoe arrived to great fanfare at Norwich City, the supposed jewel in the crown of club legend, turned FA Youth Cup winning coach, turned first team manager Neil Adams’ summer signings.
Caps for the Belgian national side and Europa League experience suggested Vadis’ signature was a real coup for a club of Norwich’s stature. Having been relegated from the Premier League a couple of months previously, this was surely a man who would feature prominently in an attempt to bounce back to the top flight at the first time of asking.
Sadly, it wasn’t to be. With the season just two months old, Vadis suffered a serious knee ligament injury in his first league start for the Canaries. It was a setback which meant he played no significant role in City’s charge towards the play-offs and gloriously resounding victory at Wembley. Vadis became a Premier League player in name only.
During the subsequent campaign, he continued to fail to make any kind of real impact, used only as a bit part player on the fringes of the match day squad. A couple of dazzling substitute performances at Carrow Road against both Spurs and Southampton showed glimpses of the talent he possessed, but he struggled to get anywhere close to a sustained run in the side.
Perhaps Norwich progressed too quickly for him under Alex Neil’s tenure. A relegation dogfight was never the right kind of environment for someone returning from a long lay off. Vadis needed game time, yet the match day margins were so fine it was difficult to see how Neil could take a calculated risk with his strength, guile but potentially still fragile knee.
That run of games would however come in the form of a months’ loan spell at Championship strugglers Rotherham, but when he returned frustration continued for the Belgian as City slipped into the relegation zone and out of the top flight with barely a whimper. Again, he was nothing more than an exasperated observer from the sidelines.
When Legia Warsaw came calling, it was difficult to begrudge the man a move likely to bring the extended run of matches he so sorely needed. That, coupled with the lure of Champions League football, meant his time at Norwich had reached his logical conclusion.
Given the limited amount of performances in a yellow and green shirt, Vadis is remembered fondly in Norfolk. The City faithful were genuinely pleased for him when he shocked Real Madrid with a stunning goal.
It highlighted what might have been had his injury hadn’t hampered his progress. He will leave a lasting legacy though, his chant of ‘Oh Oh Oh, he’s magic, you know….. Vadis Odidja-Ofoe’ set to Pilot’s 1970’s hit ‘Magic’ has been the stand out piece of song crafting from Norwich City fans in recent times. There’s a small part of me that hopes that chant is adopted by the Warsaw Ultras.
Rightbankwarsaw: Are you surprised with how well he’s done after leaving Norwich City?
I was very surprised at how he’s progressed. I thought he may do well with Legia but hadn’t anticipated how well he’d do. Just goes to show what can happen if a player clicks at a club and is given game time.
Rightbankwarsaw: Were there signs of talent when he was at City?
He was excellent when we played Southampton in the Prem and set up the winner that day. We never really found a natural position for him either, he was often played wide when it looked like he’d be more capable centrally.
Holly Hunt, Rotherham United blogger
Vadis (going to call him that rather than typing out his surname again and again!) signed for us on loan from Norwich along with another midfielder called Tony Andreu. We weren’t a brilliant side at the time but they both made a massive impact, especially Vadis. I must admit I was slightly sceptical at first purely because it was two more loan players and Steve Evans (Rotherham’s manager at the time) seemed to be hitting the panic button and he always had a thing for loan players and if they did well for us, they just went back to their parent clubs to go back out on loan to a better side and that was the last we heard of them. Also the pair were late deadline day signings so I think it’s fair to say it was a bit of an anti-climax since nobody had heard of either of them.
Further to that, we had a winger we’d signed in the summer called Emmanuel Ledesma who had been top drawer the last campaign but couldn’t get a look in and I was a little annoyed that Vadis was pushing him out of the team at first but he proved me wrong in the end!
He’d actually played against us in the cup a couple of weeks before so we did have a little bit of an idea that he was a good player with plenty of potential. However, he was much better than expected – and that’s an understatement. I’ll be honest, it was a couple of years ago now that he was with us so my memories of him aren’t as sharp as they might have been then but I remember he was brilliant at taking people on (as he’s a winger) and despite having quite a physical/strong build, he was incredibly skilful. He showed he was definitely cut out for a top level Championship side. While he was with us we won something like two of the four games he played. The standout memory is probably when he scored a penalty for us back in September 2015 I think it was, against Cardiff City, and Cardiff’s goalkeeper was sent off so Vadis made an impulse decision to take the penalty as our normal penalty taker was substituted and he was stood waiting at the spot for ages while Cardiff had to substitute their goalkeeper as their first choice had been sent off! Either way, he managed to stay cool somehow and it was a great spot kick in the end, nestled right in he bottom corner with pace and power.
I believe Rotherham tried to extend his loan deal which was initially only a couple of months I think, but Vadis himself turned it down and returned to Norwich.
Like I say, I was obviously disappointed when he left because the transfer window was over so we couldn’t replace him, as is the problem with loan players. We managed to stay up in dramatic fashion that season though so think that was enough to make our fans forget!
So it seems that while in England, despite the short number of appearances (only 14 in the league combined for both clubs) Vadis showed enough to suggest in the right circumstances and without injury, he could have succeeded in the country. It’ll be excellent if Legia can keep him in the summer but if that doesn’t happen not many will begrudge him a move to a bigger club and league as his talent surely deserves this.