Last Friday, Toronto FC announced the signing of Darren O'Dea to mixed reviews. Some saw the words Celtic, Republic of Ireland International, Euro 2012, and 25 years old and could visualise a potential long term solution to the ever present Centre Back problem. Others noted the career of seemingly bouncing around the championship on loan to different clubs, and the Darren O'Dear nickname, the two international centre backs that have already failed this year and 5+ years of comedy defending, and were a little hesitant, though surely he had to be an improvement. When you do the Bullseye thing of "let's have a look at what you would have won" and see Alessandro Nesta and Olof Mellberg being paraded then cruelly taken away, well it can definitely seem underwhelming.
An uneasy concensus was reached around the idea we should give him time and see what he can do before judging him. So, I reached out to Thomas Hill of SB Nation's Leeds United blog Through It All Together, for the opinion of someone who has seen what he can do after watching him all last season. Here's what he had to say.
Darren O'Dea's move to Toronto certainly surprised a few of us in the UK, with many expecting the Irish international to stay with Celtic or make another move to the Championship.
O'Dea's career started at Leeds with a game against Southampton and it's fair to say it was a disaster. The fans labelled him Darren O'Dear and we were left thinking what on earth we had brought in to our centre of defence. O'Dea isn't the quickest and can be caught napping on occasions, his slow speed and lack of acceleration cost us three points against Cardiff at home earlier in the season.
What you do get with O'Dea is an 'old school' centre-back...he loves a tackle and is a very tough defender who will stick his head in anywhere he can. He loves to clear it out and plays the long ball A LOT, but if a defence is in danger he's the man to neutralise it.
O'Dea was expected to sign permanently at the end of the season, something I didn't want to happen and I'm glad it didn't. He stupidly got himself sent off against Blackpool and it cost us in the final few games of the season, so Neil Warnock got rid of him at the quickest opportunity.
He's a tall player, who's strong and I'm sure he will be a threat in the box for you going forward. He's in and around the Ireland squad and will be able to bring plenty of experience with him across the atlantic.
Overall, he's not the perfect centre-back and not my ideal player but everyone has their own opinions. For his lack of speed he has plenty of heart and for several years he's been looking for a settled home. This might be it for him so I hope he does well for you, he gave his all for Leeds United and despite my opinions on his ability, I can't ask for much more than that.
Hmmm. Well, there's good and bad in there for sure. The lack of speed doesn't sound good but tall, strong, plenty of heart and loves a tackle are all good things that can quickly endear someone to the BMO Field faithful, and as for that "if a defence is in danger..." line, well that sounds like an almost constant description of TFC, so this could work out well. Some may not like the sound of "plays the long ball A LOT", but hey, if Paul Mariner's going to have TFC play that way, then you might as well get people who've built themselves a decent career being comfortable with that style. a
An "old school centre back" could well be the quintessential Paul Mariner player, the long awaited 'bossman' to be the rock TFC can rebuild around. Or he could be Darren O'Dear, only time will tell.
Anyway, here's another view from a TFC fan and Celtic fan, Mike McGuire, who you can follow here on twitter. I love this line - "never scared to tell his team mates what to do". That's exactly what we need.
Looking back at O'Dea's career while writing this, I can't help but wonder what could have been for him at Celtic.
To be honest, I wasn't shocked at Darren O'Dea moving to Toronto. Partly because I've always wanted fringe Celtic players to move to TFC, or indeed the MLS (like Colorado's Jamie Smith did), and also because it seems more and more 'Championship level' (that is a slight on a player who has played at Champions League level) players are taking the risk of moving to the MLS.
He's a player that I've always felt was unlucky, and many Celtic fans will agree. There were times during his tenure here when he was clearly better than those getting a game ahead of him, yet the coaching staff insisted on the players they themselves had signed, with transfer fee size alone rather than ability a key factor in team selection.
Darren O’Dea is an old school centre-half. A tall lad at 6'1, never scared to tell his team mates what to do. He has the confidence to go into a tackle or challenge with no fear, and had a pretty good disciplinary record with Celtic, (earning just one red card in a crazy 4-4 draw, not his finest hour) although this record didn't really continue down in England. Not the best on the ball, truth be told, but let's be honest, this should not stop a centre-half from performing his duties. It's also worth mentioning that I can't recall him ever having any real injuries.
Despite his limited game time at Celtic (69 competitive games in total), O'Dea has plenty of big game experience. This is a player who scored the crucial goal in the historic 2009 League Cup final against what was then a pretty strong Rangers side, all the while he was solid at the back. He also kept a clean sheet at home to AC Milan in 2007 just weeks after turning 20, and then he matched the feat at the San Siro until a moment of brilliance in extra time from Kaka. He earned countless plaudits from the likes of Pirlo for an amazing, commanding performance, and at that point he honestly looked like he was the future of Celtic. A regular in the Irish national squads (including the Euro 2012 squad), he was made the captain of the Irish U21's in 2007. And he's the the only Celtic captain to lift a trophy at Wembley. For a player who has been floating around from club to club on short term loan deals since 2009, that's an impressive CV.
If it hadn't been for the non-awarding of a last minute stone-wall penalty for Celtic at the San Siro, Darren O'Dea could have became a Celtic mainstay that night. But that's football. He's only 25, and he will only improve against the quality of the strikers in the MLS/CCL, who are leaps and bounds ahead of those he'd face in the SPL. Darren started his senior career with Celtic in North America, here's hoping it's reborn there. If the Reds get the same Darren O'Dea from his time at Celtic, the long standing defensive issues may finally be a thing of the past. But that's a big if...