Sometime during the 1990 football league season in Nigeria, Enugu Rangers International visited the Onikan Stadium in Lagos to play ACB FC. Rangers was captained by Emma Okocha; midway into the second half another Okocha – Austin – came on, replacing Kingsley Ogbodo.
A huge roar went up from the Rangers’ Supporters club as the younger Okocha came onto field. I had no idea who he was but was fascinated by the reaction to his introduction. Less than five minutes of being on the pitch I understood why.
Picking up the ball just beyond the half way line, he took a couple of strides forward and battered the ball beyond the ACB keeper and into the roof of the net. It proved to be the winner. It was the first time I was seeing a footballer who turned out to be the most gifted footballer I saw playing for Nigeria who was “so gifted they named him twice” – Jay Jay Okocha.
In 2009 I went to Grays in Thurrock Essex, England to interview Emma Okocha. In the course of being with him he says “we have a little cousin who is with the Arsenal youth team; he is very talented and he is getting the right training, I am sure he will make the first team and eventually play for Nigeria”.
That “little cousin” is Arsenal and Super Eagles forward Alex Iwobi. Iwobi was first called to the Super Eagles by the previous coach Sunday Oliseh even before he made his League debut at Arsenal back in 2015. “I feel very honoured and proud to be playing for Nigeria” Iwobi says to www.aclsports.com exclusively in Wroclaw, Poland.
Many in the know are very aware of the pressure the FA (England) put on Iwobi and those around him to stop him playing for Nigeria. Roy Hodgson was known to have called his agent but England stood little chance. “I have always wanted to play for Nigeria and I enjoy each minute we gather and when we play.” Iwobi was one of the most sought after for press interviews at the Radisson Blu hotel camp of the team.
Being related to JJ Okocha must be a burden, a huge pressure for a footballer playing for Nigeria surely? “No pressure at all. He is an inspiration and is always talking to me and giving me advice” Iwobi says with that smile that is almost a permanent fixture on his face off the pitch. “I want to do better than him in a way that will make him proud of me”.
The current Super Eagles might not be as flamboyant as the ones Okocha played in but in November of last year they put up a swashbuckling performance to come from behind to beat Argentina 4-2 in a friendly. Iwobi got two goals that night. His second was the stuff of dreams.
Did he think the move when the ball dropped at his feet or what? “Being in a ‘game mode’ you don’t even have the time to think these things” Iwobi says, laughing. “Ball at my feet and I thought of the fastest or easiest way to make the chance and then score”. Is that it? Cue more laughter. “At that time I did not think it was such a big deal but after seeing it so many times again I was like ‘wow, did I really do this?’ but it was nice to score for my country and to win”.
The win over Argentina was followed by a dogged win Vs Poland as the Eagles continue to lay down markers going into the World Cup. Three second round exits in five previous attempts have been the Country’s best efforts. What can the sixth be?
“We would be going there to do better than previous Nigerian teams have done and that includes possibly winning the world cup”. He did say he wants to do better than his very famous uncle Austin Jay Jay Okocha.
The Super Eagles take on Serbia in London on the 27th of March. Interview video here