Alex Iwobi, the 19 year old nephew of Nigerian legend Jay-Jay Okocha, started for Arsenal in their doomed last 16 Champions League match against Spanish giants Barcelona at the Nou Camp.
His uncle Okocha (Iwobi’s mum is Jay-Jay’s sister) was there with mixed emotions. The retired “Super Eagles” midfield magician tweeted before the game: “Ready to watch my nephew Alex take on My club Barcelona. Weird feeling..kind of torn apart..hmm”
Lagos-born and London-raised Iwobi opted to play for Nigeria instead of England and has two international caps. He was unfazed by the occasion and didn’t look out of place last night against legends such as Lionel Messi, Neymar, Luis Suarez and Andres Iniesta. Iwobi’s technique showed touches of the Okocha bloodline as he started in attacking midfield.
The youngster shone brightly in the second half. If not for poor finishing, he would have had a goal and an assist in the 72 minutes he spent on the pitch before being subbed.
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His team were soundly beaten 3-1 on the night and 5-1 on aggregate, having lost the first leg in London 2-0. But it is good news for Nigeria that such a young player is being exposed to such elevated company. The fact that he is a genuine 19 year old also means that the future of Nigeria’s national team can’t help but be bright. It has always been difficult to ascertain the real ages of many of Nigeria’s so-called youth players.
When a player like Iwobi gets playing time against Barcelona in such a high profile game it plays a very critical role in his development. It means he gets used to high pressure games and the discipline necessary to hold your own against world class opponents.
He said after the game: “It’s something a 19 year-old will always dream of [playing in the Nou Camp]. It was an amazing experience and hopefully I will have more of these in the future.”
His outing at such a big stage was endorsed by his uncle, who knew a thing or two about running a midfield: “So happy watching Alex Iwobi (nephew) on the big stage.. I’m very much impressed with his performance”.
Nigeria would reap benefits from nights like this from Iwobi.