Profiling Ireland's Exciting New Call-Up - Michael Obafemi
While Glenn Whelan will be afforded an international farewell against Northern Ireland, the Irish squad named for that friendly and the subsequent Nations League game against Denmark has been infused with youth. There is a quartet of new call-ups in Liverpool goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher, Hearts defender Jimmy Dunne, QPR attacker Ryan Manning, and Southampton striker Michael Obafemi.
Manning and Dunne have been heavily involved with Ireland at under-21 level, while Kelleher trained with the senior squad after the Nations League defeat in Wales in September. Obafemi, meanwhile, has played with Ireland at under-19 level and is unique among the new call-ups in that he has already played twice in the Premier League. So if you are asking yourself who is Michael Obafemi, then read on...
Who is Michael Obafemi?
First of all, just to prepare you for the jolt that a waits you all: if Obafemi plays for Ireland in either of the upcoming games, he will be the first-ever player born in this millennium to play at senior level for Ireland.
Obafemi is 18, and while he was born in Dublin to Nigerian parents, he was raised in London. His first ever club was Ryan FC, from whom he moved to Watford before settling at Leyton Orient. He then moved from London to join Southampton in 2016, and was given a somewhat unexpected promotion to the senior squad for a Premier League game against Tottenham in January of this year.
In appearing off the bench, Obafemi became the Saints' second-youngest Premier League player, after Luke Shaw. He does, however, own the title of youngest Irish international to appear in England's top flight. He made a second appearance against Manchester City on Sunday.
Obafemi has played at under-19 level for Ireland, and made his debut in a European qualifier in October, 2017.
What kind of player is he?
Obafemi is a striker, with pace his main asset. After making his senior debut in January, his then-manager Mauricio Pellegrino said that "Heâs a really fast player and his speed is his most important quality. He is also a good finisher, and I observed that their back four was really high and he could have some chances".
Mark Hughes also accentuated Obafemi's pace having been impressed with the striker's cameo against City.
It was something I wanted to have a look at. Clearly at the top end of the pitch weâve been struggling for someone to give us a spark to set us off to score more goals and create more chances. Heâs got unbelievable pace. It was important that I had a look at him in the Premier League environment because he could very well be someone we can use.
Bringing on Michael late on in games as an impact sub could be something that will help us. I was pleased with what he did, he didnât look phased by the stage he was on so that bodes well as something we can work on.
Weâll see how he progresses. Heâs been playing well in the Under-23s and getting goals so heâs deserved his chance.
Is there any chance of another Declan Rice-style situation?
Perhaps, although Obafemi's inclusion in the senior squad hints that O'Neill is going to make sure he cannot lose Obafemi in the way he may lose Rice. Obafemi is eligible to play for England and Nigeria, and both sides are believed to be interested in taking him. Obafemi missed Ireland's most recent under-19 internationals, triggering some anxiety that he might consider his options beyond Ireland, but he was absent only through illness.
Given that UEFA considers the Nations League a competitive tournament, if Obafemi is capped against Denmark in Aarhus it will tie him to Ireland for good.
Given thi s early call-up for Obafemi - he has yet to play at under-21 level for Ireland - that may well happen.