Arsenal and Nigerian forward, Alex Iwobi in this interview with Arsenal magazine, recalls how he was told that he was not good enough to play football and won’t succeed through the round leather game.
It was an incredible season for you Alex,
when did you first realise how big it could be for you?
I think it was after my first start, in the FA Cup game against Sunderland at Emirates in January.
I’d played a few games as sub, but I think everything changed from then really. It was at home, in a big competition and that’s when I started to get a bit of recognition. We won as well, so people took notice from then really.
What performance were you most proud of?
In my opinion my best performance was against Barcelona because I think they are the best team in the world. For such a young player to play in a game like that gave me a lot of confidence.
You can’t get any bigger than that – Barcelona away – so to just be selected for that game means I am doing something right. Also I thought I did all right in the game as well, so that’s my favourite performance, even though we didn’t win. Then a few days later you scored your first goal… That Everton game was crazy.
To be honest I was a bit shocked when I found out I was even starting against Everton, but I was really happy. The goal was crazy. I’ve always dreamt about scoring just one goal for Arsenal, and for it to come on my first start was just crazy. I couldn’t believe it.
How has your regular run in the team developed your game?
It’s improved me a lot. It’s made me understand a lot more about football, tactically as well as the physical demands of the game. I’ll have to improve on that if I want to stay in the first team. There’s a lot more physical and tactical work than I was used to for the under-21s.
I’m still learning the game, there’s a lot to work on. How have you coped with the routine of playing Premier League football week in week out? I prefer the routine because I love playing games, everyone wants to play as much as possible.
It’s a lot more tiring though, I must say, there’s more recovery time needed – I’m sleeping a whole lot more lately! To be fair I’m always sleeping anyway, I did a lot when I was playing for the under-21s. I do like my sleep!
Growing up at the club, did you always think it was inevitable you would play for the first team, or were you more realistic?
Well I was on trial at six, and I think I was eight when I signed. I nearly got released when I was 13 or 14, so back then I really didn’t think I would make it here.
There was a stage when I wasn’t playing up above my age group, but all the better players were. I questioned myself a lot at that age about whether I was good enough, but I eventually got through it.
They did keep me on and I guess since then that’s when I really kicked on. I played in the Nike Cup (youth tournament) shortly after that, and then England called me up and things started moving.
Has it been a gradual progression, or can you look back and pinpoint moments or seasons when you made massive leaps in your development?
Yeah, I remember the first time I got called to play up above my age group. I was, about 14 or 15 I think, and there was a game against Fulham, I came on and I managed to score, the first ever time I got called to play up (above my age group).
Then we played Leicester, and even though we lost 3-1, I thought I played really well. There were a few games that stood out at about that time. I remember I got called to play for Steve Bould’s under-16 team, and I scored then. I was still about 14 or 15 and that meant a lot.
Was that when you started to think about making it as a pro at Arsenal, or did you always have the belief you were good enough?
No, not really, it just gradually happens. I never really thought about things like when I was young. I always questioned myself about whether I was even good enough to play in my own age group.
That’s all I ever thought about. When I was about 13 I needed the confidence from my family, because I was getting a lot of criticism from elsewhere. I heard people saying that I wasn’t good enough, people at school, a few coaches said I wasn’t quick enough and I wasn’t strong enough, so I did have doubts.
They told me I won’t make it. It put me down, but since then I’ve been able to motivate myself.
In hindsight, would you have done anything differently when you were younger?
I wish I was a lot more confident, but saying that, the fact I’m here in the first team squad now, perhaps I wouldn’t change anything.
“What do you feel you need to work on next season?
I think because of the position I play I need to get more goals and assists. I haven’t done that for a while, a few games, so I need to add that to my game next season. I’m aware I haven’t got an assist or a goal for a few games, so I need to get something. I know a lot of hard work is going to be required to kick on again next season.
I’ve been putting my head down, getting on with it and putting in the work. Finally Alex,
what are your targets for next season?
Let me think. I don’t know, because I always just want to play as many games as I can. But now I’ve got a couple of goals this season, I suppose I want to better that. I just hope I get the chance again next season, because I’m sure there will be more players, so I will have to earn my spot again.