The Curious Case of Emmanuel Osadebe

Emmanuel Osadebe and his Whirlwind Year

It’s fair to say that Gillingham midfielder-cum-defensive maestro Emmanuel Osadebe has had an eventful year.

It was May 2015 when ‘Paddy’ put pen to paper to sign for Justin Edinburgh’s Gillingham squad. Not much was expected of the Dundalk-born, eighteen-year-old plucked from the Tottenham Foundation College Programme.

However, a hugely impressive pre-season changed everything. Including the mind of Justin Edinburgh, who admitted he had earmarked the 2015-2016 season as one of development for Osadebe. The Gills gaffer thrust Osadebe into the starting XI for the first game of the season, at home against pre-season favourites, Sheffield United.

A display full of running, aggression, and consummate skill won Osadebe the Man of the Match award, in his first ever professional appearance, as Gillingham thrashed Sheffield United 4-0. The midfielder’s performance was so exceptional that he was even credited with Deji Oshilaja’s goal at the time. His ineligibility was a mere side-note to an imperious performance.

Osadebe’s debut season was an undoubted success despite, at times, flitting in and out of the team and games. As the Gills’ campaign unravelled from February onwards, many fans were bemused at the lack of pitch time ‘Paddy’ received. However, he capped off a personal success story with Gillingham’s Goal of the Season award tucked firmly under his belt, after a fine solo effort at home to Bury.

The one-year contract extension Osadebe earned at the end of the season was well-deserved. It lays the foundations of what will be a crucial season.

Sowing the Seeds of Promise

Emmanuel Osadebe is something of an enigma on the football field. There is an ungainly rawness about his height and stride. The way he covers ground would not please the purist or the aesthete. The eagerness he exhibits without the ball can be a scary sight, for opposition and Gillingham fans alike, especially when defending a lead. However, the talent is undeniable. There is something of Dele Alli about him in both his attitude and his aptitude.

The goal-of-the-season effort against Bury sums up ‘Paddy’. A few miscontrolled touches did not halt the bravery and exuberance of the youngster. Indeed, the midfielder must have gone past, through or around six or seven tackles; some with skill, some with luck. The final flourish showed a calmness unbefitting his age.

The growth and confidence that an extended run in the side would create could be the making of a player who is ahead of his development curve at present. Osadebe remains the junior of Bradley Dack by three years; until he nails down a starting spot regularly, ‘Paddy’ will always struggle for consistency.

The 2016-17 League One Season

Justin Edinburgh has laid down a marker for Emmanuel Osadebe in giving him just a one-year contract. It hints that he is not convinced about the Irishman. Edinburgh, one senses, desperately wants to be convinced. The way the gaffer talks about Osadebe suggests that he believes in the Irishman wholeheartedly. A one-year contract, however, does not.

Jake Hessenthaler was rewarded with a new five-year contract at the age of 19. Bradley Dack received a four-year contract when he was 20 and first breaking into the senior team. Osadebe has no such security. He must perform from the first whistle of the season.

However, Edinburgh, has thrown a curve-ball early on. Osadebe has played the majority of the pre-season friendlies alongside Max Ehmer at centre-back. Moreover, the manager has suggested that Osadebe has the ability to play in a variety of positions. While Oshilaja would expect to slot back into this role upon his return from injury, this newfound versatility could be a curse or a bonus for ‘Paddy’.

Agile, adaptable players are the jack of all trades, master of none. This means they are players treasured in an era of new EFL rules which prohibit emergency loans. However, it also means that they are replaceable.

One just has to think of Dack again. Under Taylor he played in a variety of midfield roles, never fully impressing, never fully getting the chance to impress. Only when trusted in the attacking midfield role at the tip of the diamond did Dack excel. The same could well be true of Osadebe.

Only time will tell where (on and off the pitch) and how Emmanuel Osadebe develops as a footballer. The only truth is that age is on his side.