There’s no substitute for playing at Barnsley for Clarke Oduor

CHANGING rooms at football clubs can often be unforgiving places.

Barnsley's Clarke Oduor. Picture Bruce Rollinson

The banter is sometimes merciless and given the amount of time that Barnsley utility player Clarke Oduor spent on the bench as an unused substitute in the second half of last season, there must have been a temptation for any dressing-room wags to hand him the nickname of ‘The Judge.’

For the record, Oduor did not come onto the pitch for 29 successive matches in league and cup – at a time when nine substitutes were allowed to be named in match-day squads, with five replacements allowed to be used.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Prior to the arrival of Markus Schopp, the 22-year-old had not featured at first-team level since before Christmas, with his predecessor in Valerien Ismael not so much as offering him a morsel of game time after dropping him following the 2-0 defeat at Swansea City on December 19.

Tykes boss Markus Schopp. Picture Bruce Rollinson

Thankfully, team-mates spared him from any jibes and were sympathetic to his plight. Admirably, Oduor took the demotion on the chin in the hope that his time would come again.

It has, albeit under a new head coach. If anyone is a winner from Ismael’s exit, it is the ex-Leeds United player. But he is not hung up about what went on before.

Oduor, who started Barnsley’s last three league games prior to the international break and came on in the other two, said: “You have just got to be ready and stay positive. I cannot have that mindset of ‘oh, I am not going to get on’.

“Because what happens if I do get on and am not ready? I’d let the team and myself down.

“In parts, I had some (feedback from Ismael). It was ‘keep working hard on the training pitch and keep improving, whether that is defending, attacking or the final ball.’ He said: ‘when called upon, just be ready’ and that is just how it was.

“At times when you are not playing, you do not feel part of the squad. But it is a good group of lads and you get back in the training room and everyone makes you feel like you are a part of it – the older boys such as Cauley (Woodrow) and Alex (Mowatt), who was skipper at the time.

“The manager now has told me that he is confident in me and likes the way I play and my ability and to just go out there and perform, there is no pressure.”

Given his total dearth of action under Ismael in 2021, the unmistakable impression was that the Frenchman did not particularly fancy or trust Odour as a footballer, when all was said and done.

Thankfully, for his sake, his successor thinks differently and sees the Kenya-born player not as merely a squad player, but a special talent.

Oduor is perhaps the sort of instinctive and off-the-cuff player who would never fit in to a side managed by Ismael.

Schopp, by contrast, clearly prizes his qualities, particularly going forward and his decision to utilise him in an advanced offensive position is bold and intriguing, but maybe not as left-field as you would think.

A player who developed his skills in ‘street football’ in his formative years growing up in Leeds, Oduor played on the wing and as a number 10 when he was a youngster but was brought in by Barnsley to essentially play as a left-back or left wing-back.

Schopp believes his time at the back will boost the defensive aspect of his game. He wants more going forward from a tactical, technical and physical perspective, but clearly sees something in Oduor that Ismael never did.

Schopp said: “On the one hand, it was a really good experience he had last season. Because when you have to improve defensively, he will get much better (at defending) now as an offensive player. I appreciate he had this experience and now it is up to him.

“Clarke for me is a special player. He can make the difference between the lines and is an unbelievably creative player who knows to play the final pass.

“But I want to see him finish more and in the ‘danger zone.’ Right now, he does not make the right decisions, but it is something he will do in the next weeks as it is all about minutes and getting used to the pace of the game and to his new position.

“He had a really good pre-season and I am not surprised at the way things have worked.

“I see him in good progress and he has made a big step forward, but he still has to improve so much. He must be more concentrated and clinical in the last third of the field.”

Of course, Oduor’s sole goal thus far for Barnsley is one that is forever etched in Reds’ folklore.

His last-gasp strike on July 22, 2020 – in Brentford’s final league game at Griffin Park – was a ‘Where Were You When’ moment for Barnsley fans as the final act in a staggering act of relegation escapology was played out in scarcely imaginable fashion.

In those tough times last season, it will have also provided succour for him and his family.

Oduor commented: “It was a special moment and the only goal I have ever scored. Every now and again, I find my mum watching it or my missus, so it does pop up every now and again.”