He might have become better known for his outspoken comments in recent times. But new Dundee defender Darren O’Dea is determined to prove he has returned to Scotland a far better player following his adventures abroad.
O’Dea, 28, yesterday completed his move to Dens Park until the end of the season. Dundee manager Paul Hartley has enquired about O’Dea, his former Celtic team-mate, in the past. But the need to sign a centre-half became more pressing last weekend when skipper James McPake dislocated his kneecap when challenging Dundee United midfielder John Rankin.
McPake will now miss the rest of the season at least, meaning Hartley had to return to his list of contacts. Fortunately for him and Dundee, for once O’Dea was on hand to answer the call.
His career in recent years has been mostly spent abroad but he has returned to Glasgow in recent weeks after the expiry of his deal with Mumbai City in the Indian Super League. Before that the Irish international defender had enjoyed spells in Ukraine and Canada, where he played with Toronto FC.
But it isn’t because of his wanderlust that he has hit the headlines recently in Scotland. O’Dea, who played over 50 times for Celtic, was drawn into the debate over whether Rangers should be stripped of their titles if they are guilty of breaking tax rules in the period in question.
“Haven’t even kicked a ball and I think I might have doubled my SPL football winners medals to 4 today,” he tweeted on hearing the Court of Session had ruled in favour of HMRC that oldco Rangers illegally avoided paying tax to players and managers through the use of employee benefit trusts.
O’Dea, who scored the goal against the Ibrox side in the 2009 League Cup final, later labelled Rangers “cheats”. These media interviews were conducted from what he now admits was the conveniently far-flung base of India.
Despite having now returned to Scotland he has no regrets. While keen to draw a line under the controversy and focus on his new career with Dundee he is unrepentant about his comments.
“I was asked the question and I answer questions,” he shrugged yesterday. “I think the majority of players go through the motions and rightly so, they detach themselves from the media.
“But if I am asked a question then I’ll answer it and I give my opinion. It is one man’s opinion. In Glasgow, you get many opinions – well, in fact, you normally get two.
“I was in India, so it was a good place to give my opinion! I am a smart guy. Listen, I have grown up since I was 15 here and I have seen it all. I have the utmost respect for everyone in Scotland, players and clubs.
“I was on one side of the divide. I didn’t make the divide but I’m on that side. It is not my fault. Everyone has opinions in Scotland and they are normally strong ones which I think is a good thing. I have a strong opinion as well. I am entitled to it as is everyone else.”
Dundee fans hope O’Dea will prove as uncompromising in central defence, starting this weekend against Falkirk in the Scottish Cup if deemed fit enough to feature.
O’Dea hasn’t played for five weeks but looks in good shape to show Scottish football he has improved since leaving Celtic in 2012, after stints on loan in English football with Reading, Ipswich and Leeds United.
It was after this that he began his travels with a move to Toronto FC. He hoped this would be a long-term life change but circumstances changed and he ended up in Ukraine with Metalurh Donetsk. Helping improve his technique were no less than six Brazilian team-mates.
Not that he believes anyone noticed, least of all Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill. O’Dea won the last of 20 international caps against Wales in 2013 when Giovanni Trapattoni was still in charge.
“I felt I developed more as a player there than I did elsewhere,” he said. “But no one knew. Or at least the people I cared about in Britain and in Ireland didn’t know. So I feel I am a better player. But there is no point in me telling people that. Hopefully I can show that. But my year in Ukraine was where I developed most.”
Toronto, meanwhile, was where he found fulfillment. “That would be the happiest year of my career, and I include Celtic in that,” he said. In India, his last port of call, he played with Nicolas Anelka in front of crowds as big as 60,000 and was deliberating whether to go back when Hartley called to invite him to Dundee.
“It’s great to be back in a league I know surrounded by people I know,” he said. “I am just looking forward to getting started. I’d say the main [attractions] were being able to be based in Scotland, the manager and if you look at attendance records in Scotland, Dundee are near the top. All in all it was a perfect fit for me.”