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.

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.”

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