• Friday, May 24, 2024
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Family over country: How Okocha lured Iwobi to play for Nigeria over England

Family Over Country: How Okocha lured Iwobi to play for Nigeria over England

Jay-Jay Okocha, the legendary Nigerian footballer, played a pivotal role in luring his nephew, Alex Iwobi to represent Nigeria over England in international football.

Despite having the option to play for either Nigeria or England due to his dual eligibility, Iwobi faced a significant decision regarding his international allegiance. Okocha’s influence, stemming from his illustrious career representing Nigeria on the global stage, carried substantial weight.

With firsthand experience of the pride and honour associated with representing Nigeria, Okocha shared his profound insights with Iwobi, emphasizing the significance of playing for one’s homeland. He highlighted the deep-rooted passion of Nigerian football fans and the immense sense of national pride that accompanies donning the green and white jersey.

Okocha’s persuasive words, combined with Iwobi’s cultural ties to Nigeria, ultimately steered him towards choosing Nigeria as his international footballing home. This decision underscored the profound impact of Okocha’s guidance and the pride Iwobi felt in representing his Nigerian heritage on the world stage.

Okocha, renowned for his dazzling flair, notably represented Nigeria 73 times and played a pivotal role in their success, including winning the Africa Cup of Nations in 1994 and securing a gold medal at the 1996 Olympics.

Iwobi, born in Nigeria but raised in England, initially represented England at youth levels before committing to Nigeria. His uncle Okocha played a key role in his decision-making process, citing the immense love and recognition footballers receive in Nigeria, especially those associated with Premier League giants like Arsenal.

Reflecting on Okocha’s influence, Iwobi acknowledged the special bond between Arsenal and Nigerian fans, affirming the widespread admiration and support he experienced even as a youth team player.

This connection, coupled with Okocha’s guidance, played a significant role in shaping Iwobi’s decision to embrace his Nigerian roots and represent the Super Eagles on the international stage.

Fulham star Alex Iwobi revealed that his uncle Okocha influenced his decision to represent Nigeria instead of England.

Iwobi was born in Nigeria but moved to England at a young age and joined Arsenal’s academy.

Iwobi previously played for England at Under-16, Under-17 and Under-18 levels but then chose to play for Nigeria and made his senior international debut in 2015.

Iwobi has now made 78 appearances for Nigeria and has scored ten goals.

The 28-year-old, who can play as a winger or a midfielder, featured as Nigeria finished as runners-up to Ivory Coast in the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations.

Iwobi says a visit to Lagos, where he was born, persuaded him to play for Nigeria after he saw Okocha’s popularity.

Speaking to Arsenal TV in 2018, Iwobi said: “I went over there to see what it’s like and the way they described my uncle. Wow, he’s a legend.

“Even when we were just walking around with him and in the car, the acknowledgement he gets from everyone… I thought, ‘Wow, maybe one day I would like to feel like that as well.”

“He influenced me without even talking to me about it.”

Iwobi played 149 senior games for Arsenal and scored 15 goals before joining Everton in 2019.

He made another move last summer when he signed for Fulham. So far this season he has played 31 games in all competitions and has scored six goals.

The former Arsenal youth player further revealed how Okocha told him that the Premier League clubs have a huge fanbase in Nigeria to further convince him to play for Nigeria.

Speaking to Nedum Onuoha’s podcast in 2021 Iwobi said: “He (Okocha) influenced me as well, he told me that when you play football in Nigeria you get treated almost like you are a king – the love they have for you.

“Arsenal fanbase in Nigeria is huge, he always told me that playing for Arsenal especially you are going to get that love straight away and I felt that love when I first went.

“I went for the U23s and I didn’t play for the Arsenal first-team at all but people still knew who I was just from Arsenal U21s.”

Through Okocha’s mentorship and Iwobi’s personal experiences, the bond between family, heritage, and football became intertwined, paving the way for Iwobi’s successful career representing Nigeria and making his mark in international football.