Inspired to become a footballer by Nigerian footballing royalty and held in high regard at Arsenal, academy product Alex Iwobi is enjoying a breakthrough campaign after graduating to the senior squad. Meet UEFA.com’s latest weekly wonderkid …
Name: Alex Iwobi
Debut: 27 October 2015 v Sheffield Wednesday (English League Cup)
Date of birth: 03/05/1996
Preferred foot: right
They say …
“I believe he is going to make his mark. He is from Nigeria and we all support him and love him. He is the star we are looking for.”
Nwankwo Kanu, former Arsenal and Nigeria forward
“What I see in [Iwobi] is a creative player who has a high work-rate and a good team spirit. He can play on the flanks, he can play through the middle, he’s a very interesting player.”
Arsène Wenger, Arsenal manager
“He is versatile and that’s a massive attribute because forwards don’t normally have that 360 vision that you need in midfield.”
Mikel Arteta, Arsenal captain
Iwobi is Jay-Jay Okocha’s cousin
Born in Lagos, the nephew of former Nigeria playmaker Jay-Jay Okocha joined Arsenal at eight before representing the club at almost every level. The teenager notched three in six outings to help the north London side reach the FA Youth Cup semi-finals in 2013/14. The following season, Iwobi captained the Under-19 team to the UEFA Youth League quarter-finals.
After he finished the 2014/15 campaign with nine goals in nine matches for the U21 side, and impressed for the seniors in pre-season last summer, the Gunners handed the versatile starlet a new long-term contract. This term, deployed on the right wing, Iwobi registered twice in four UEFA Youth League appearances for Andries Jonker’s team before his performances earned him a first-team debut and first international cap for Nigeria.
Playing style …
Originally a winger, the attacker was converted to a striker before featuring as a No10 for the senior side in the FA Cup. Quick, creative and with an eye for goal, Iwobi is equally adept on either flank, just behind the target man or as a forward.
Shades of …
Given the 19-year-old is a skilful and creative talent who can play an incisive pass, comparisons to Okocha are inevitable.
Eureka moment …
Iwobi scored one of the UEFA Youth League’s best goals back in October, smashing a swerving right-foot shot in off the crossbar from the edge of the area during a 2-0 home success against Bayern München. Followed that up by catching the eye during three consecutive FA Cup starts in 2016.
Best-case scenario …
Recently promoted to a first-team squad that features fellow academy products Jack Wilshere and Kieran Gibbs, Iwobi appears set to become a permanent fixture for club and country. Having represented England at U16, U17 and U18 levels, the youngster heeded the advice of his dad, as well as Gunners hero Nwankwo Kanu and his uncle to switch allegiance to Nigeria. “Okocha is a legend in African football,” he said after playing for Sunday Oliseh’s Super Eagles. “I know I’ll have to work hard so people speak positively about me as well.”
He says …
“As I was growing up I had a lot of downs but as I get older things just keep getting better and better. To play for Arsenal’s first team means so much because when I play I think about all I have done to get to where I am and I feel so happy to do it.”