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    • #5724
      Topics: 3608
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      By Abayomi Kalejaye

      It took a solid performance against the best club in the world, supplemented with an equally impressive outing against, arguably, the most inconsistent team in the EPL this season for England to take cognizance. That doesn't happen often. Or does it? For Alex Iwobi, the scenario might be akin to being torn between sticking with a new lover and switching to a new, but, more attractive admirer.
      The dilemma is as tantalizing as much as it is perplexing.

      In the days of yore was Nigeria inexplicably predisposed to shilly-shallying on foreign-based but Nigerian-born talents. Either a mulatto or a pure-bred, the bottom line remains the presence of a Nigeria blood, thus certifying eligibility.

      Prior to playing for the green-white-white, albeit in two friendly games, Iwobi had represented England at the U-16, U-17 and U-18 level. Like other (full and half) Nigerian-born players before him, those stages are readily accessible to them. Wanting more would be perceived as a trespass in some quarters. Except such a talent is exceptional, the chances of them playing for the senior side of the other country is about as likely to happen as humans existing on Jupiter. While most, like the likes of Cole, Nedum Onuoha, Shola Ameobi (who later yielded to Nigeria after being ignored by England) were never, unsurprisingly, called, others who were capped a few times – like Gabriel Agbonlahor, John Fashanu, Ugo Ehiogu Patrick Olukayode Owomoyela, Angelo Ogbonna and co – were unsurprisingly, discarded.

      In the Champions League Quarter final clash against Barcelona, Iwobi evinced admirable qualities of a player ready to take the world by storm. His sheer confidence on the ball betrayed his age. Like the Everton game, his passing and link up play with his team mates were commendably precise. His crude combination of power and pace enabled him get his debut goal for Arsenal against Everton via a Hector Bellerin lob. Though not quite yet the finished product, Iwobi’s decision making in the final third still needs a great deal of fine-tuning. His versatility means that he can both operate on the wings as well as in the midfield for Nigeria.

      With six days remaining for Iwobi to be permanently ineligible for England, apparently motivated by his burgeoning talent as evident in the Everton game, the English FA launched a belated attempt to convince the Arsenal starlet to change allegiance as reported by top media outlets in England like Dailymail, Mirror and Metro. Indeed, it was the resolve the young man showed that rendered the move abortive, as his mind was made up from the get-go.

      He said early last year: “Ordinarily I would have loved to play for England since I have played for all the under-aged teams up to the U- 19, but Austin Okocha, my mother’s relation, who I respect a lot for his exploits with the Super Eagles and most especially for his records with Bolton Football Club. And also the outstanding records of Kanu Nwankwo that I met and read about in England, influenced my decision to play for Nigeria,” Iwobi told media in Abuja.
      “My dad too has told me a lot of things about the honour and pride that goes with playing for one’s father’s land.
      “So I thought a lot about this and decided to play for Nigeria,” he said.

      On the flip side, however, the situation of things could have panned out differently. It took the intervention of basically three individuals to prevail on Iwobi to make Nigeria his choice. Had Okocha not been related to Iwobi and his parents opted against advising him on which country to choose, it is safe to assume the Three Lions would have been his utmost preference. In addition to that, Wenger’s urging of Iwobi to choose England over Nigeria threatened to unleash a negative effect save for the intervention of Iwobi’s father.

      “His club manager [Wenger] preferred he played for England because of his talent, but his mother and I advised him to play for Nigeria and he agreed,” Chuka said.
      “Alex has huge respect for Okocha since he has watched his video clips and read about his exploits while playing in England as well as in the Super Eagles.
      “He is also aware of Kanu Nwankwo who played for Arsenal and also captained Nigeria so he agreed to play for Nigeria,” he said.

      A similar favorable fortune may not be replicated next time with a reactive approach of waiting for young (half and full) Nigerian players plying their trade abroad to be revealed by the media.

      While we patiently wait for the glowing manifestation of the precious gem in Iwobi in the coming years, we would do well to pay attention to other gems awaiting discovery by devising an elaborate blueprint that does nothing but ‘catch them young’, this time, both home and abroad.

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