Americans Abroad

American Jide Ogunbiyi Making Strides in Denmark

Things are looking up for the six-foot-four central defender. The Rochester, New York, native and former Nigerian Under-23 player is off to a bright start with Danish Superliga side Viborg.
ASN Slideshow Ogunbiyibabajide_supplied_d
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
September 17, 2013
12:14 PM
AFTER EARNING PROMOTION to the Danish Superliga in May, Viborg F.F. has enjoyed a strong start to the new season and currently sits near the top of the table.

Like most newly promoted clubs, Viborg was active in the summer to bring in players to shore up weaknesses and prepare for the increased level of competition. Judging by its early returns, the most important move the club has made was reacquiring Jide Ogunbiyi. The American central defender has been a key component in Viborg’s recent stretch, helping the squad to three wins in its last four Superliga games. (Click on the ASN slideshow, above.)

For Ogunbiyi, 26, it is his second stint with Viborg, the club where he began his professional career. Viborg discovered him while he was on trial with Superliga club OB Odense following his collegiate career at Santa Clara.

“It’s been great so far this season,” Ogunbiyi told American Soccer Now. “I moved right before the season started, the day before their first game. I finally got into the team. I knew some of the guys here because I played here before. It was easy to settle in and it’s gone well.”

Ogunbiyi’s path back to Viborg has been long and winding. In 2012 it appeared as if he was leaving Viborg for Major League Soccer after agreeing to terms with the New York Red Bulls. (Ogunbiyi was selected with the 18th overall pick in the 2009 MLS Superdraft.) The deal, however, fell through after the Red Bulls expressed concerns about his physical exam. At the time Ogunbiyi had been dealing with a knee injury.

Following this unsettling ordeal, Ogunbiyi returned to Denmark and signed with Vendsyssel FF through the end of the 2012/13 season. When Viborg earned promotion that year, the team placed a high priority on reacquiring the six-foot-four Ogunbiyi. it was a terrific opportunity for the American to finally step into the spotlight of the Superliga, a league in which many U.S international—Aron Johannsson, Michael Parkhurst, and Clarence Goodson—have prospered.

“After college I went to the combine and did well and got drafted higher than many expected, but my dream was always to go to Europe,” Ogunbiyi explained. “That’s from when I was young—even before I went to college. It hasn’t ever really been a goal of mine to play in MLS, but at the time [in 2012] it seemed like the best option for me. When it didn’t quite work, returning Denmark became the best option because people knew me there.”

When he signed with Viborg in July, head coach Ove Christensen knew it was an important move if the club were going to survive in the top tier of Danish soccer.

“He is a player with an American attitude, and we know that he works hard in both the training and the matches,” Christensen said. “We got a strong addition to an already strong backline, and in the aerial games, we got a true specialist. When this opportunity arose to sign him, we were all agreed that it would be a good idea. What has impressed me a lot: the will and motivation he had to get back to Viborg. It's just what we need.”

On August 25, Viborg easily defeated Esbjerg 3-1 and Ogunbiyi scored the team’s final goal off of a powerful header. Days later, Denmark’s TV3 named Ogunbiyi to the Superliga team of the week.

This past weekend, Ogunbiyi again scored for Viborg but this goal was more dramatic as it gave his team a valuable 1-0 win on the road over AGF Aarhus. The win moved the club into fifth place in the Superliga and just two points out of second.

“It’s definitely something I’ve been looking forward to for a long time,” Ogunbiyi said of playing in a top division. “I’ve been really close in the past to moving to some pretty good leagues. To finally have it happen is exciting for me to play and get some exposure.”

“In terms of everything else it hasn’t been too much of an adjustment,” he continued. “When I was younger, I was in with Nigeria’s U-23s and that was a high level. The biggest difference is the style of play. It’s a bit more open. There is a lot of crossing. Obviously the players are smarter. Of course it’s a step up but for me it hasn’t been too much.”

As for team expectations for Viborg this year, it is difficult to say. The Danish Superliga is always one of the more unpredictable leagues in Europe. This year, traditional powers Brondby and Copenhagen are off to very slow starts, as is 2012 Champion Nordsjaelland.

Ogunbiyi believes that Viborg can compete well but the club will have to avoid serious injuries to key players since the squad is not very deep.

“When I came here, the goal was just to stay up,” Ogunbiyi said. “I think that’s still the goal since we’re newly promoted and we don’t have the biggest squad. It’s hard to say what’s going to happen because if we get some injuries, we could be in trouble. It’s good that we’ve gotten off to a good start because it has taken some of the pressure off.”

As for his national team aspirations, Ogunbiyi admits he has thought about the topic recently now that he has returned to the Superliga. He was born and raised in the United States to a Jamaican mother and a Nigerian father. He grew up in suburban Philadelphia and became involved with the sport when his father was his first coach.

During his early-to-middle teenage years, he spent summers in Nigeria training at the prestigious Pepsi Football Academy, which has produced Nigerian internationals such as John Mikel Obi, Uwa Elderson Echiéjilé, and Joseph Akpala. The Nigerian federation continued to stay in touch with Ogunbiyi and invited him to camps for its U-23 national team while he was playing for Santa Clara University.

Despite playing for Nigeria’s youth teams, Ogunbiyi said he would be honored should the United States national team ever decide to invite him to attend a camp. Historically, the annual January camp has been a time where Superliga players have been involved due to the country’s long winter break. Competition will be tight since many of the U.S national team’s central defenders—such as Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, and Clarence Goodson—are now based in MLS.

“I’d never turn it down,” Ogunbiyi said of a theoretical U.S call up. “I’d be open to play for either country. I had the chance to play with Nigeria when I was younger and I thought it was a good opportunity. I was in school at the time. I haven’t been in with them since that time and I am open to anything now.”

Brian Sciaretta is a frequent American Soccer Now contributor and a member of the ASN 100 editorial panel. Follow him on Twitter.

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