BY JOE APU
In the western world, service to fatherland remains supreme to all. The Americans, British and other nationals hold it in high esteem.
While this trend continues to gladden the hearts of the government of these countries, sports men from the third world were quick to dump their countries for the Golden Fleece.
Though, many sports men and women born in those countries had also worked assiduously to make their country of birth teams, while others simply want to identify with their countries of origin.
In athletics, Britain’s Tripple jumper, Philips Idowu did not contemplate his decision to represent Britain, while the likes of Francis Obikwelu and Gloria Alozie changed nationality to represent Portugal and Spain respeclikes of Francis Obikwelu tively.
Basketball icon, Hakeem Olajuwon released his ambition of an Olympic gold medal with the USA Dream Team and Michael Olowokandi represented Britain.
Football stars John Fashanu shunned Nigeria’s call to national duty back in his playing days and today regretted not representing the Nigeria. Jordon Ibeh, Sammy Aluko and a whole lot of players also preferred to stay with England.
However, that was not the story of Arsenal of England wonder boy, Alex Iwobi.
Despite having played for England at junior levels the youngster had pledged his international future to Nigeria, his country of birth.
Iwobi, who is Nigeria legend, Jay-Jay Okocha’s nephew, had burst onto the scene in recent weeks, scoring his first goal for the Arsenal in the 2-0 win over Everton penultimate Saturday.
Ahead of Iwobi’s trip to Nigeria, the English FA made a last-ditch attempt to sign up Arsenal wonderkid, Alex Iwobi after being impressed with his ability.
Iwobi played for the Three Lions at Under-16, 17 and 18 levels before opting to play for the country of his birth – Nigeria – last year.
The 19-year-old had already played in two friendlies for Nigeria, and made his official debut against Egypt yesterday.
But the Daily Mirror reported England was hoping to tempt him away after being impressed with how he’s broken into the Arsenal first-team.
Iwobi had started three of the Gunners’ last four games and scored on his Premier League debut against Everton on Saturday.
The decision to commit himself to Nigeria over England at international level had been decided, according to his father, Chuka Iwobi.
Reports suggested that the FA had made a last-ditch effort to try to lure him to commit to England, and speculation increased earlier when the youngster was taken to hospital with food poisoning.
However, his father confirmed that Iwobi is for Nigeria at international level in an attempt to emulate his uncle, Jay-Jay Okocha.
“In terms of where he is now, he has allegiance to Nigeria. I am not in a position to say England has come for him or not. I cannot confirm, I cannot deny. He has come to Nigeria, to play for Nigeria. He is, according to FIFA registration, a Nigerian player. So, it is not even a question. He is here to play for Nigeria. According to FIFA records, he is with Nigeria,” Chuka Iwobi told Reports Afrique.
“I am praying for it to be the beginning of a long journey for him playing for Nigeria and getting to that pinnacle of playing for Nigeria as well. Maybe, God willing, who knows? We don’t know where the journey will take him to. Hopefully with hard work, dedication and respect, doing well for Nigeria, he could go the way of his uncle, Jay-Jay Okocha who captained the Super Eagles.
“What a better feeling it would be for me as a father to see him play for Nigeria and becoming a captain in the future, though that’s a long way down the line.”
Iwobi’s decision was inspired in October 2015, when ex-international, Austin ‘Jay Jay’ Okocha challenged his nephew to surpass his achievements with the senior national team.
Iwobi revealed that he received the challenge from his uncle, following his national team debut against DR Congo.
The Arsenal youngster also revealed that Okocha had been a major influence in making him the player that he is today while also stating that it was a tough decision to dump England for Nigeria.
“I remember one time he was playing for Bolton and I was lucky enough to go and watch with my dad,” Iwobi recalled.
“Then we were just having a kick around and he came over, showed me something and then I’d be like, ‘How on earth did he do that?’! Then I would go away and spend the next few days trying to learn it.”
“Playing for England was a good experience, but Nigeria gave me a great opportunity to go and play for my home country, and also follow in the footsteps of my uncle, so I think that is going to be the pathway for me.
“He (Jay Jay) told me that if I played for Nigeria, I could become even better than him. To hear that was massive because he was a great player. He’s given me a challenge and I might have to accept it.”