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Deji Oshilaja ready to be Mr Versatile in Charlton’s Championship drop battle

BY TOBY PORTER
toby@slpmedia.co.uk

Charlton defender Deji Oshilaja is the Swiss Army knife of Lee Bowyer’s squad.

He played at left-back in the Addicks’ pivotal 1-0 victory at Hull on Saturday and, as well as shackling Josh Bowler, regularly overlapped and created danger at the other end.

The 26-year-old ex-Cardiff and AFC Wimbledon star enjoyed proving his versatility – and hopes to keep doing it.

The former Millwall youth player – raised a stone’s throw from The Den – actually began his rise to first-team action as a striker.

He said: “I have played left-back before, when I was a Cardiff. I like to get forward. Being picked to play down the left was no shock to me. But I’ve only played away from the centre-back positions a couple of times. I think I showed the manager that I can do it in training and he trusted me on Saturday.

“It requires different skills and during the week we prepared for that.

Charlton Athletic’s Adedeji Oshilaja tackles Hull City’s Josh Bowler during the Sky Bet Championship match at the KCOM Stadium, Hull.

“I don’t know if I will play there against QPR – that is up to the manager. They are a very good team. When we played at their place, they had a lot of chances and might have been well ahead at half time. But we stayed in the game in the second half and Naby Sarr got an excellent goal in the last minute to make it 2-2. That was a massive result for us.”

Oshilaja admits that as a youngster he wanted to be an astronaut. More sensible heads prevailed and his next chosen career was to be a PE teacher.

By then he had the football bug. “I started playing on the wing when I was young and then I went up front,” he said. “But then I was playing in other positions.”

There was talk of a trial at Cambridge before he joined Cardiff, where former Dons and Milllwall full-back Neal Ardley was head of the academy.

At that trial, his mentor and coach Errol Johnson told the youth set-up he was a left-back. A baffled Oshilaja was lumped with that tag initially – because he won a deal at the Welsh club.

He had loan spells at Newport County, Sheffield Wednesday, Dons and Gillingham – playing all but a handful of games at Priestfield Stadium in a League One season where they beat the drop by a single point.

Ardley had seen enough to know the defender was strong, adaptable, and had leadership qualities. He signed Oshilaja permanently in June 2017.

Bowyer picked him up on a free last summer, for his first full season in the Championship.

The move has paid off as the defender has played 22 times for the Addicks this campaign.
Oshilaja has also worn the armband at several clubs.

“The captaincy is not something I’ve thought about,” he said. “Jason Pearce is the obvious person to lead us – he is very experienced.

“But every player should aspire to be captain. I feel like a leader on the pitch as well – and in our situation we need everyone to do it.

“Now that matches are behind closed doors, no one can have any excuses. Everyone can hear what everyone is saying. To be successful you cannot be quiet and you can’t leave players out. You barking an order might save them from a mistake. We need all the help we can get and we will utilise everyone – we need to keep talking.

“After the game on Saturday everyone was calm.

“Of course everyone was really happy too, because it was a massive result for us and that was reflected in the changing room. We felt better for having won.

“But you can’t sit back – that was just one cup final. We have to approach every match game by game and we have eight more cup finals to come. We still have a lot of work to do and that’s exactly what the gaffer said afterwards.

“But we have not been playing for such a long time, so it was a very happy way to come back into action.

“Everyone is positive and since we came back into training, the boys have all been buzzing and looking forward to the challenge of the next few weeks.”

Oshilaja is also a massive asset for Charlton when it comes to community work.

He said: “I got a lot of help when I was younger. I found football a release from what was going on in the area.

“So if I can help any other youngsters in the same way in any shape or form – steering them in the right direction – to help them become everything that they can be – and be an inspiring professional, then I will.

“It is important to encourage people to aspire for a better life.”

Racism has been a fact of life for some people in South London for too long but he is optimistic about the future.

Oshilaja said: “What has changed since what happened to George Floyd is that now my white friends know more about the situation – it was something that was recorded.

“Now everyone has come together and the Black Lives Matter movement has changed.

“It is important now that everyone comes together. We are all seeing what the Premier League has been doing. We went that in the Championship as well.

“It was good for people of different colours and different races to see the video going around.

“We want to raise awareness and let everyone know what it has been like, so that people in power can intervene and stop the situation happening again.”

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