Obbi Oulare made to wait patiently before being unleashed for Barnsley FC
Plan A was for Obbi Oulare to join Barnsley in January but an injury and family concerns put paid to that and left him in limbo for half a year hoping the Reds would come back for him. A change of management – not only a new coach but the departure of chief executive Dane Murphy – cannot have helped but eventually the Belgian striker got the move he was hankering after.
“I was happy,” the 25-year-old says of the moment co-chairman Paul Conway phoned to say the deal to bring him from Standard Liege was back on.
“I wanted to go back to England, I felt the club really wanted me and I saw how well the club did last season, so I thought, ‘Finally, good news after six months!’”
Until then there was uncertainty and drudgery. “I didn’t really know,” says Oulare when asked if he thought the move would be resurrected, “it was really hard for me.
“I had to train with the under-21 squad in Belgium. I kept on watching the games but I wasn’t in contact with the club.
“As soon as Mr Conway contacted me I was really happy that they came back and showed an interest in me.
“I have two little girls in Belgium with their mum so it was a lot for me to deal with not knowing how it was going to be or when I was going to see them. The coronavirus made it harder in January because if I had left Belgium it would have been difficult for me to come back.
“As a footballer you train every week to play at the weekend but I trained from January to the end of May not for nothing but to be ready for the next chapter of my career. It was hard but I’m really looking forward to this.”
Oulare has at least had time to prepare for the move. A lot of time.
This is his second spell in English football. His first came as a teenager at Watford, hoovered up in 2015 but playing just three times in his debut season – an FA Cup start at home to Newcastle United, and two Premier League substitute appearances. Then it was onto the loan carousel, turning out for Zulte Waregem (where he scored a Europa League winner against Lazio), Willem II and Royal Antwerp before Standard Liege offered a permanent home in 2018.
Even Watford was not his first experience of English football, visiting his dad, Souleymane Oulare, in the holidays when he was at Stoke City.
Being an avid football-watcher – “it’s the only thing I do” – further helps him to know what he is letting himself in for, and for half a year he became a Barnsley fan. He could scarcely have timed it better, watching the Reds’ most exciting season for years as they pushed aggressively to reach the Premier League, only to fall just short in the play-offs.
“I would be jumping off my sofa at times and I was really happy with the way they were playing, their courage in going for every ball,” he says. “I really liked the mentality of the lads.”
Oulare will not be the only one getting his reward for sitting tight this season.
If he had the frustration of not being able to play over the last six months, Barnsley fans have had three times as long without being able to go to matches.
A lucky and very noisy few thousand attended May’s play-off semi-final first leg at home to Swansea City but now stadia have finally been fully reopened, and away fans can play their part as Barnsley’s surely will in Cardiff tomorrow.
They have been able to watch pre-season but this is different, the full English for foreign players like Oulare attracted by the passion in the stands.
“I like it when the stadium is full,” he says. “I played for some clubs like Brugge when it was an amazing atmosphere. England’s the same and the fans are so close to the pitch you almost feel them.
“Now finally people can be here and watch the game not in front of a screen but in the stadium.”
What happens next for him will be a test of just how professional Oulare was in limbo.
As a powerful targetman for a high-pressing team he will need to be in good shape, the more so because with compatriot Aaron Iseka and Devante Cole signed alongside Cauley Woodrow, Carlton Morris, Victor Adeboyejo, coach Markus Schopp has plenty of front-three options.
“Since I’ve been 18 I’ve played for big clubs with lots of players for each position,” shrugs Oulare. “That’s how it should be.
“(In the first half of 2021) I did my best, I kept on training by myself and trying to be ready for the right moment and I believe this is it.
“I’m going to train hard because I have to get in shape again after six months without playing but I will do my best and I hope in a couple of months I will be fitter.”
His debut might not, therefore, come tomorrow but if there is one thing Oulare has had hammered home to him in 2021, it is the value of patience.