The 'Afcon Rise of' Series is a collaborative initiative between Goal and 3 Kilo featuring up-and-coming writers. 3 Kilo is a development agency that creates opportunities and skills development projects for the youth of South Africa.
Arsenal star Alex Iwobi is a versatile attacker brought up under the guidance of Nigeria legend Jay-Jay Okocha. Iwobi has established himself in Europe and seems to be in the prime of his career with impressive displays in Unai Emery’s team.
Off the back of an amazing season with the Gunners in the Premier League and Uefa Europa League, Iwobi’s star is shining bright as the Super Eagles prepare to take on the rest of the continent in Egypt.
Alex Iwobi's early life
Born in Nigeria on May 3, 1996, Alex Iwobi’s family moved to Turkey when he was two years old, before they eventually settled down in England when Iwobi turned four. Family has always been important to him, and as a young boy he was always learning from his uncle Okocha, who later became a strong part of his professional development.
One of his earliest football memories was going to watch his uncle in training after which Okocha and his teammates would come over to teach Iwobi some football tricks, to the dismay of their coach at times.
Alex Iwobi's club career
Iwobi has been at Arsenal since he started his football journey. He joined the Arsenal academy at the tender age of eight, but he struggled to find his feet at the club during his early years and risked being dropped from the academy when he was 14. The worry spurred him to work harder and the resurgence of desire was evident as he was later called up to England's youth team.
In 2015, Iwobi was offered a professional contract by Arsenal, and later made his first-team debut during a League Cup fixture against Sheffield Wednesday. Thereafter, the Nigeria international made himself a regular fixture for the Emirates Stadium outfit with his impressive displays, which has seen him attrack interest from several European clubs.
Since he made his Premier League debut in 2015, Iwobi has gone to provide 11 goals and 16 assists in 100 Premier League games for the Gunners.
Alex Iwobi's international career
At international level, Iwobi was eligible to play for the Three Lions or the Super Eagles, but his decision to pledge his allegiance to Nigeria was influenced by his family and uncle, as well as the reception he received upon his arrival in the African nation.
He made his international debut as a second-half substitute during a friendly game against DR Congo in March 2015.
In an interview with the Guardian, the 23-year-old explained he would never forget his debut match for Nigeria because of the amazing atmosphere.
“At my debut, we played in a stadium that holds 30,000 and there was 60,000 – I don’t understand how. People were standing on the floodlights, on the scoreboard,” he said.
"But people there will do anything to watch the match. Sometimes in a Premier League game, the fans are a bit quiet but in Nigeria, you just hear trumpets, everything. The atmosphere is so different compared to England.”
The love and affection from the Nigerian supporters won Iwobi's heart and he paid them back by scoring the winning goal against Zambia, which sealed the country’s qualification for the 2018 Fifa World Cup in Russia.
The effort at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium remains a memorable moment for the Arsenal star.
“It was a special moment for me because my family was there to support me, my mum and dad were present in the stadium and the fact that I was able to spot them after the goal made it extra special and it meant a lot to me, not just to the whole nation,” he added.
Iwobi's versatility could be crucial for Nigeria’s success at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, which gives coach Gernot Rohr options to play him as a winger or an attacking midfielder in their quest for a fourth continental title in Egypt.
After missing the last two editions, the Super Eagles will return to the Afcon finals in Group B against Guinea, Madagascar and Burundi and will aim to advance to the knockout stage.