A return to Norway has done plenty of good for Olivier Occean; could a return to the Canadian national team also be on the horizon?
The 33-year-old striker from Brossard, Quebec is having a standout season with Norwegian side Odds BK, with nine goals in 17 league appearances thus far. Occean made his professional debut with Odds back in 2004, and returned to the club in January on a six-month loan from German side Eintracht Frankfurt.
Now he’s signed with the club through 2017, and couldn’t be happier.
“It’s like a home feeling at Odds, they take care of us,” Occean told MLSsoccer.com over the phone this week. “I know the people working here, it’s the same people that were here before.”
For Occean, the attitude in Norway has been a stark change from his experience in Germany, where he had spent the previous five years.
“There’s a big culture difference in terms of dealing with people,” he says. “It’s more relaxed, they talk to you more as a human being as compared to, in Germany, it’s in terms of working, doing your work in the right ways.”
The Canadian target man is currently one of the top scorers in the Tippeligaen (Norway’s first division), and attributes his success to not only his sense of familiarity and comfort at Odds, but with the way his manager has utilized him this season.
“It fits me, being the lone striker up top,” says Occéan. “It’s the type of football I was missing the last few years. A bit more freedom as a lone striker.”
That’s the same system preferred by current Canada manager Benito Floro. So, after the national team slumped to a goalless performance at this summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup and with crucial World Cup qualifiers coming up, it would seem like a great time to call up an in-form striker who’s playing in a similar setup.
But Occean – who has six goals in 28 all-time appearances for Canada – says he has not had any contact with Floro, who took over the national team reins in August 2013.
“He never got in touch with me,” says Occean. “But I’m still open to play for the national team.”
Some of that may be down to circumstances. Occean’s last national team appearance was in a World Cup qualifier against Cuba on October 12, 2012. Canada won the game 3-0, but Occean received a highly dubious red card and missed the team’s next game—the infamous 8-1 loss in Honduras.
To add insult to injury, FIFA suspended Occean for an additional five official matches for “several acts of unsporting behaviour and using offensive language toward match officials”. That ban ruled him out of the 2013 Gold Cup and two World Cup qualifiers earlier this year.
Although Occean could have played in friendlies during that time, he had fallen off the goalscoring form he’d shown during the 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign. Still, given Canada’s own troubles in front of goal in the last two and a half years, he wonders why he hasn’t at least been in consideration.
“I got a suspension; does that mean I let my team down? What does that mean?” he says. “I don’t know why I never got called up, so that’s what I want to know.”
Whatever the reasons, the timing might be right for Occean to make a long-awaited return to the national team, given his current hot streak and Canada’s upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Belize (Sept. 4 and 8).
But after nearly three years away from the team, Occean knows the only way he can change anyone’s mind is to keep performing on the field.
“They’re the ones deciding my fate,” he says. “I’m just a soccer player trying to do the best on the football field. Of course, if they want me, I will gladly play for the national team.”
For the moment, his focus is on a pair of big games later this month, when Odds squares off against German heavyweights Borussia Dortmund, with a spot in the UEFA Europa League group stages on the line.
Occean went up against Dortmund numerous times during his playing days in Germany, and though he knows his Norwegian side will be the underdogs, he’s looking forward to the matchup.
“It’s a home and away tie, so we’ll see,” says Occean. “Everyone is excited. It’s going to be really difficult for us to win those games, but anything is possible in football.”
Coincidentally, that’s the exact same sentiment Floro has expressed in recent months as it relates to the national side. So even if the Canadian program has its eyes on the future, it remains possible that Occéan will get one more shot at success for his country.
“I believe I have a lot more to give to soccer,” says Occéan. “I’ll give everything I have to this sport.”