Alex Iwobi interview: Everton midfielder on a mission after seasons of turmoil

Speaking to 'The National', the Nigeria international reveals how his move from Arsenal came about, being inspired by uncle Jay-Jay Okocha, and rediscovering his 'motivation'

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Hearing about a big money move while relaxing in an idyllic setting is the stuff of dreams for most footballers.

But for Alex Iwobi, it was a less-than-perfect scenario before completing his £28 million ($34m) transfer to Everton during a family holiday to Dubai in August 2019.

The Nigeria international, 26, had been enjoying a post-Africa Cup of Nations break when the prospect of a move to Merseyside arose days before a summer window deadline. Yet Iwobi’s switch from Arsenal proved to be anything other than plain sailing.

“It got played down for a bit and I got told that it wasn't going to go on,” he told The National. “I was on a boat and I get a call from Marco Silva at the time saying: 'We're really interested. How do you feel?' I thought, maybe I'm ready for a new challenge.

“We told them it was an emergency, like we needed to spin the boat [around] and get back quick because we were in the middle of nowhere. I have to give props to the driver because I don't know how he sped back to get us back in time to try and sign the documents.”

If the story of Iwobi’s arrival at Goodison Park sounds like a scene freshly plucked from a James Bond film, his intervening years have been more reminiscent of a classic underdog story.

His debut season was disrupted at its midway stage by a hamstring injury picked up against his former club before a scheduled return coincided with the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Everton’s turnover of four permanent managers across the next three years, similarly, did little to help with his attempts to properly acclimatise to his new surroundings.

Alex Iwobi during a pre-season game for Everton against Minnesota United. Getty

But the strong family values he holds also extend to football, where Super Eagles legend Jay-Jay Okocha is on-hand to impart sage advice to the nephew following in his footsteps.

“When I was younger, he used to give me advice about football,” Iwobi said. “But he only speaks to me [now] about off the pitch, just making sure I handle myself well. On the pitch he just says 'enjoy it' really, the same thing he was doing.

“He wants me to do the same. He was a great player. I'm trying to live up to his standards. It's a high standard to push up to but he's a great role model for me.”

As it was in Dubai, Afcon provided the backdrop to Iwobi’s latest Everton chapter. He returned from this year’s tournament to take on a starring role as new manager Frank Lampard tried to stave off the increasing prospect of Premier League relegation.

“I was having a bit of a difficult season and didn't have the best Afcon experience, so I used that to make me motivated and get myself hungry [again],” said Iwobi.

“Coming back to a new manager and him speaking to me made me feel like it was a fresh start almost. That goal against Newcastle was hard work building up before that and a bit of a reward. But it's in the past now. I just have to try and keep it going.”

Alex Iwobi has thrived under the management of Frank Lampard at Everton. Reuters

Everton begin a 69th consecutive season in English football’s top flight on Saturday against Chelsea, one of their opponents during a memorable final few weeks of the previous campaign.

Belief played a pivotal role in Lampard’s side clinching safety by overturning a two-goal deficit in their penultimate game against Crystal Palace on a heady night at Goodison.

“Obviously we had the disappointment of going into half-time 2-0 down, but we had that belief,” said Iwobi. “Everybody spoke to each other in the changing room, saying, 'It's not impossible. It's something we can do'. When Dom [Calvert-Lewin] scored that header, it was just like 'Wow.'

“We still had a while to go but the feeling of the final whistle going, knowing we were staying up and the way we did it, was like a movie."

Updated: August 04, 2022, 5:36 AM