Nigeria’s Super Eagles and Arsenal midfielder, Alex Iwobi was recently interviewed by The Guardian, and he spoke about his meteoric rise to the Arsenal first team, how coming to Nigeria to represent the Super Eagles feels and also how his life has since changed.
Born in Lagos in May 1996, Alex Iwobi moved to England with his parents at the age of four and joined the Arsenal football academy at six while he was still in primary school. Since then, it’s been ups and down but finally he has made a name for himself at the North London club.
Speaking in an interview with the Guardian, Iwobi spoke about how he has been dealing with the attention away from the field, recalling how a fan once followed his car for miles while he was driving away from the Emirates with his mum. “I thought, this fan is going to follow me to my destination. I need to take a detour. It was crazy. I was almost scared. ‘Iwobi! Iwobi!’ For 20 minutes. It was a bit too much.”
Scoring his first champions league goal for the club in the final group match in Switzerland against Basel was yet another check in the career path for Iwobi. League Cup appearance. Check. FA Cup. Check. Premier League. Check. First start. Check. First goal. Check. First Champions League start. Check. Now, Champions League goal. Check.
“When I sit down and actually think about what I have done, to score in the under-19s a year ago and then to score my first Champions League goal for the senior team is mad,” he said.
He also spoke about how training with players like Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez gets.. “Alexis likes to take the mick out of me when I don’t score in training. They are funny.”
“They will tell you what you need to work on but in a jokey kind of way. They do advise me, saying I just need to compose myself, relax and the chances will come. They try to help in the best way they can”. This means a lot for a young boy who came very close to being released by Arsenal in his early teenage years.
“Because I wasn’t as big, fast or strong as everyone else, there were question marks on me and my ability that I wasn’t imposing myself on the game as I should,” Iwobi recalls. “It was upsetting because I was going to school thinking, ‘What can I do to improve?’ I would have extra sessions with my dad or friends. My mum made me do kick-ups in the living room. My sister even tried to play football. Everyone was trying to help me.”
Speaking about the influence of his uncle and Nigerian footballing legend, Austin Jay Jay Okocha, he said “We speak every couple of weeks. He does advise me, not just on the pitch but off it too. Football is a short career so he is telling me to maintain the lifestyle you have to get businesses and properties. He is trying to keep me level-headed and to help me plan for the future after football.”
Alex Iwobi chose to represent Nigeria instead of England and having spent most of his life in his adopted country, he’s been amazed by the reaction whenever he comes to represent the Super Eagles. “Everyone appreciates you. You’re almost like a king!” he says.
“When I arrived at the airport I thought, I’ll just have my earphones in, but everyone was like ‘Iwobi! Iwobi!’ Oh gosh. Hi guys! I didn’t know what to expect. It was just mad. I always go with Kelechi Iheanacho. When we go we get escorted. Because I’m not used to the Nigerian culture as much as they are, they do help me with it. I can’t really speak the language that well. They help me with the fans. The fans are very different there. They don’t ask me for autographs, they ask for boots, money.”
“At my debut we played in a stadium that holds 30,000 and there was 60,000 – I don’t understand how. People were standing on the floodlights, on the scoreboard. I was thinking, ‘What? This isn’t even safe!’ But people there will do anything to watch the match. Sometimes in a Premier League game the fans are a bit quiet but in Nigeria you just hear trumpets, everything. The atmosphere is so different compared to England.”