When a promising young player is learning the game, the most valuable advice will often come from an experienced team-mate, a coach or someone who has been there and done it all. Not many, though, can boast a direct line to one of Nigeria’s most celebrated sons, Jay-Jay Okocha.
Alex Iwobi is in a privileged position. The nephew of the two-time African Footballer of the Year has always been able to turn to the man ‘so good they named him twice’ for help in his nascent career. Okocha was renowned for his lightning-fast stepovers and immaculate technique, and he has passed on all he knows to the 17-year-old.
"He was always giving me advice on how to play, and just last week he told me to try to express myself when I’m on the pitch"
Iwobi has always tried to learn from his famous uncle, whether that is talking on the phone or getting a more hands-on demonstration at family gatherings. And judging by his encouraging start to the new season, Iwobi is learning fast.
“I played a lot with him when I was young and he taught me a lot of skills,” the versatile forward told Arsenal.com.
“When he was playing for Bolton I used to play with him in his back garden. I also used to go and watch him when he was at Bolton and a little bit when he was at Hull.
“He was always giving me advice on how to play, and just last week he told me to try to express myself when I’m on the pitch.”
Iwobi has obviously taken that advice to heart. So far this term he has caught the eye with some energetic displays and opened his account on Saturday as the under-18s were beaten by Manchester United.
He is relishing the prospect of playing on a bigger stage - and that starts on Thursday night as the under-21s take on West Brom at Emirates Stadium. It is a chance that Iwobi is determined not to pass up, having seen close friend Chuba Akpom make a name for himself on tour with the first team during the summer.
"“There's a lot more of a challenge at under-21 level because there’s more thinking involved, but I'm looking forward to playing at the Emirates. It's like a dream come true really"
“It's good to see Chuba doing well because I grew up with him and supported him,” he said.
“There are a lot of opportunities now. I'm going to enjoy my time and use these experiences to do the best I can. I think I've done well enough at under-18 level so I've just got to keep going.
“There's a lot more of a challenge at under-21 level because there’s more thinking involved, but I'm looking forward to playing at the Emirates. It's like a dream come true really.
“The fact that I'm playing at the Emirates makes me believe that I could make it, so hopefully there's more of these opportunities to come. My family is going to come and hopefully they will enjoy it, too.”
You can be sure a certain uncle will be looking on particularly keenly.
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