Arsenal forward Alex Iwobi shares his experience on what it takes to play for a top club like Arsenal and the Super Eagles of Nigeria, who are flying to Russia 2018. In this interview with Completesportsnigeria.com’s JOHNNY EDWARD, Iwobi also reveals reasons why he wants to step out of his uncle’s Austin Jay Jay Okocha’s shadow…
How hard or easy has it been playing for a club like Arsenal?
I had to do what I had to do to stay there, concentrate on my game and as a young kid there was a time I was going to be thrown away from Arsenal when there were question marks on me and my ability, and that I wasn’t imposing myself on games as I should. It wasn’t easy for me and Chuba Akpom. We were playing together from the age of four and ever since we got promoted to the U-14s, U-16s. To get picked for training was a big task especially when I was growing at the club because there were lots of young kids there.
And being selected for the first team I had to be patient and wait for my time because there was always going to be injuries and some problems which could pave way and whenever the chance comes you just have to be ready.
I was able to make my debut against Sheffield Wednesday and ever since then I have been tossed around the first team and I was able to make a start against Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League and I would like to say that I have taken my opportunity. I’m still young and the journey is still far off so I just need to keep myself focused.
It was hard but something I had to learn from. If you are not performing consistently at a club like Arsenal, then there are other players ready to take the opportunity — which I learned the tough way. I wasn’t involved as much as I wanted to be but I just had to be patient, still have the same attitude, work hard in training and wait for my chance again. That’s what I’ve been doing.
Do you feel pressure when the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Theo Walcott, Mesut Ozil and the rest are on the bench and you are playing?
Obviously, I am an attacking player, so when other attacking players are out, you need to create goals and get goals — and that’s the main thing for me. People in my position were doing better than me in that aspect of the game, which is to eventually win games, and that’s something I had to work on. I need to do more to keep them there…(Laughs).
Yourself, Ola Aina and Tyronne Ebuehi are the young crop of players to have pledged their allegiance to the Super Eagles having played for other national teams at youth level. What advice do you have for players like Tammy Abraham who is being courted by the Super Eagles of Nigeria?
Obviously it’s going to be difficult when you’re playing in your comfort zone, representing England. They’ve been raised up in England and they play for England. So that’s all they know.
If I get through to him I could talk to him but at the end of the day its not my decision, it’s for him to decide. However for me switching, Ola Aina it can be done as well and it’s been great here. Nigerians are very welcoming and you will enjoy your time. Me personally I’d advise Abraham and others to switch because they will enjoy their stay. As regards Tammy, if I get in touch with him I wil try but at the end it’s up to him to decide.
Since you made the decision to switch to Nigeria, have you ever regretted it?
Not at all. I’m always happy to play for Nigeria and wear the colours of the country. It has always been an honour for me playing for Nigeria.
The journey to Russia 2018 started with you scoring the first goal in the campaign. What memories do you have watching the FIFA World Cup?
For me because we have World Cup winners at Arsenal I have been talking to Mesut Ozil and Per Metersacker on how’s it been like playing and winning the World Cup. I have been learning and it has helped me to where I am. They have told me to enjoy myself at the World Cup, that there’s less pressure and I am looking forward to that.
Which player do you admire so much?
The big stars, in the big teams and I love to watch the attacking players to learn a thing or two from the way they break defences, how they prepare for games and how they evolve during games and match situations. It helps me in so many ways so I can be ready for the World Cup as well.
So how are you looking forward to the World Cup since Nigeria have qualified?
Obviously it’s my first World Cup and it will be amazing. I would have said the aim is to win it but I will be there to enjoy myself. It will be amazing to make my World Cup debut. I’m proud to be a Nigerian and will always be.
Lets talk about your teammates at the national team level. How well do you get along with them?
I get along with every one of them. It’s fun with them and we take it serious when we need to. The mood and synergy in camp is very good and that’s the main reason we are flying to Russia.
Your uncle Jay Jay was a legend with the Nigerian team. Did you get to watch him play for Nigeria and which part of his game have you emulated?
I watched him so well at Bolton and his clips as well, however I will like to create my own person. He (Jay Jay) was a legend and will remain one forever.