Home Sports Nigeria Iwobi owes much to the arsenal ... and to England

Nigeria Iwobi owes much to the arsenal … and to England

Alex Iwobi could be one of the best to come from the continent. Photo: Andrew Couldridge / Reuters
Alex Iwobi's decision to represent the Nigerian national team instead of England must have been one of the most difficult choices to make in his football career.

And since the gambling has paid off, it deserves credit for its courage and turning a blind eye to the advantages of being an international Englishman.

See, Arsenal, one of the biggest names in English football, has shaped the 22-year-old Iwobi with the astute footballer he is today. Iwobi entered the gates of the Arsenal's Hale End Academy in London as a seven-year-old boy who hoped to have a successful career – and follow in the footsteps of some of the most famous great Africans, including Uncle Jay-Jay Okocha.

His youth days at the Gunners were difficult to say the least, despite having the right quota of captained in the youth teams of the club. At 16, he thought of packing all his belongings and leaving the club gates to look for greener pastures elsewhere.

But thanks to Arsene Wenger, who threw him deep, today he is the best graduate of the club.

His rise to the Hale End is still famous.

As you enter their home of the academy, on your right is a flight of stairs up to the top floor of the well-appointed and branded academy that houses the under-eight for the U16s.

On that floor, as you approach the gym and the cafeteria, you are greeted by an isolated framed A1 collage, which has the unforgettable days of Iwobi, from the signing of your first contract to seven years in 2004 and memories of how it bloomed which is slowly becoming.

Iwobi represented the Under 16s of England, but there was nothing that could come close to making him happier than representing his country of birth. And, today, Nigeria is already among the teams that have booked their seats in this year's Africa Cup which will be hosted by Egypt in June.

The Super Eagles finished at the top of Group E, winning four games, losing once to the South Africans in the first leg and playing with a 1-1 draw in the second. And with the Super Eagles coming into qualifying for the last two matches of continental football, this year has been a real bargain for them.

They will head to North Africa with a lot of hope to be able to harvest the fruit they sowed in the last two seasons. On the other hand, do you think that today there is a South African player who would like to get rid of European citizenship to come and play for Bafana Bafana? There is no way!

The South African national players are currently experiencing a torrid period of work permits to play in England – as they must have played 75% of their last national games, while the team should be among the top 50 in the world rankings.

Percy Tau, is the latest victim of this ordeal. Tau is on loan to the Belgian team Royale Union Saint-Gilloise of Brighton & Hove Albion, which he reached last season from Mamelodi Sundowns.

But the chances of returning to the club also next season are minimal, as Bafana languishes in 74th place in the world rankings.

Also Ian Wright, legend of the Arsenal, commiserated with the unenviable situation of Tau – the first, enormously convinced that Tau would have adapted to the EPL. But Tau and society have their destiny in their hands however – to get a draw today against Libya, qualify for the Afcon and set the right path to climb the rankings.


Independent Sunday

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