Ya Digg: Alex Iwobi On The Real Life Of A Premier League Footballer
Photographer: Will Spooner / Stylist: Carlotta Constant / Words: Daniel-Yaw Miller
It’s easy to be deceived by his laid back approach to life, but Alex Iwobi has achieved more than most in his six-year career so far. Considering that he has already racked up over 150 Premier League appearances, played under Arsène Wenger and Carlo Ancelotti, won an FA Cup and represented his country at a World Cup, you would be forgiven for not believing that he is still only 24. Even he gets the impression that he has been around for a long time. “I’m starting to feel like one of the older ones in the dressing room,” he says with a smile.
Listening to Alex, you quickly realise that he is truly a level-headed guy. “It’s crazy when everyone tells me all these stats like the appearances and caps I’ve got. I’ve had a decent career so far considering my age.” He is keen to stress that he doesn’t pay much attention to his growing list of achievements or the games he’s played in, rather, that success only makes him hungrier “to achieve more in the game, to win more trophies and play more for Nigeria.”
Looking back at the young boy who made his Premier League debut for Arsenal back in 2015, Alex sees “someone who had that sense of excitement to jump on the pitch. I don’t think that’s changed at all, I look back at that first game where I came on, just thinking ‘yeah this is my moment’…” Fast forward three years from his Premier League debut and Alex was representing Nigeria at a World Cup, after scoring the goal which secured qualification for the Super Eagles. He describes it as “a mad experience,” playing a key role in the instant classic Nike x Nigeria kit launch and then playing in the biggest tournament in world football.
How does Alex feel about representing Nigeria despite representing England at youth level? “It was difficult because I was raised in England,” he concedes. “But as I’ve grown up surrounded by Nigerian culture that made it easy for me to pick Nigeria. It just felt right.” Since choosing to play for the country of his birth, Alex hasn’t looked back. His goal against Zambia sent Nigeria through to the World Cup finals, and he scored twice in an historic 4-2 win over Argentina, nutmegging Javier Mascherano on the edge of the box before slotting the ball into the bottom right corner for the game winner. Nothing brings Alex joy like scoring goals for club or country. “Whenever I score it’s a mad feeling,” he chimes. “Even when I played at school, even now when fans aren’t in the stadium, you still go celebrate when you score because of that rush.”
What you see with Alex Iwobi is exactly what you get. “I like to be the same way on the pitch as I am off it,” he admits. His love for the game and his energy on and off the field are two things that have remained constant since he burst onto the Premier League scene as a teenager. “I like to be expressive and play with a smile on my face. The same way I enjoy life, I like to enjoy my football that way too.” With Alex, it’s clear that the simple things in life are the most important. Positivity and enjoyment are central to how he lives his life and plays his football. He is self-aware enough to see how his critics may view him too, conceding that “some people probably see me as someone who is joking around too much, but I do take my football very seriously at the same time.”
In an age where many players are still learning about themselves and finding their way in the world of modern football, Alex comes across as very focussed and settled. Where does his mature outlook on life come from?
Above all else, Alex is a family man. When the subject comes up, he is quick to remind us that his family comes first. Anyone who has followed his journey in football will be aware of how close he is to his mum, dad and sister, who have been with him every step of the way. He is also very close to his uncle, the former Nigerian international Jay-Jay Okocha, who continues to play a key role in his development to this day. “I wouldn’t be where I am now without my family,” Alex tells us. “They are very important to me, everything I do is for them. They have made so many sacrifices for me to be able to get where I am. Whenever I play, it’s as if they are there playing with me.”
Alex even goes on to tell us about his most prized possession, a bracelet that his mother got for him during a trip to Rome. “I take it with me everywhere I go, especially before games,” he says proudly. The bond Alex shares with his family has been made even stronger during the past year. “I’ve always valued my family, but this situation [Covid] has made me value them even more. When you think about the number of people who have lost their lives or loved ones during the pandemic, for me to have my family close to me means a lot.”
Leaving a legacy in the game beyond his sporting contributions is something that Alex has already set about doing. He and his close-knit group of friends have come together to create Project 17. The tagline ‘Motivate – Educate – Elevate’ is a perfect indication of what Alex has set out to achieve with the platform. “Through Project 17 we can give back to the community, to young aspiring people who want to make it in football or just people who are generally interested in the game,” Alex explains.
“That’s basically what me and my team want to achieve through Project 17, so we’re on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, as many social media platforms as possible. Anything we can do to give back, that’s the goal.” Alex doesn’t take any of the opportunities that football has given him for granted. “Obviously, I’m lucky because football has brought me so many different opportunities, like even being here [doing the interview and photoshoot] today. I learn something new everyday. It’s nice to meet new people and see different environments…it makes me so grateful to be here.”
Project 17 is part of a growing trend in football, where players – such as Alphonso Davies, Jordyn Huitema and Héctor Bellerín – are engaging their creative abilities to provide organic insights and content for their fans via their social media. The platform shares intimate insights into Alex’s home life – including chats with his uncle Jay-Jay Okocha – alongside community work and his well-documented love of fashion. Having recently joined TikTok, Alex’s first post took his new followers through three of his favourite current outfits, from head to toe. He assures us that a lot more content is coming soon “now that [lockdown] restrictions are being eased.” Thanks to his true-to-self approach on social media, his brand value continues to rise. Just last week, he used his Project 17 platform to announce that he had signed with PUMA as a brand ambassador and sponsored athlete, hailing the “new beginnings”.
When asked what his greatest ambition in life is, it is unsurprising that his answer is focussed on family.
“So far, I feel like I’ve achieved my ambition because my family are enjoying life, my friends are enjoying life and I am enjoying life.
“And I feel like I’ve enjoyed my life as much as I can, so my greatest ambition is to keep on doing that because there’s more to life than what you first think.” It is fair to say that the same applies for Alex himself; there is more to him than what meets the eye. He is someone who is never afraid to try new things. Asked when last he tried something new, he breaks out into another one of his signature smiles.
“Just now on the shoot when I wore boots. Those Jimmy Choo boots man, I’ve never worn boots in my life before today, you know. That was the first time I actually wore boots. I actually liked the Jimmy Choo boots as well, they were cold. The only problem was trying to get them off…I had to have two people helping me get them off.”
Maybe it is this constant thirst for the new and the novel that keeps him ahead of the pack in the Everton dressing room when it comes to drip. “I’d like to say I’m up there [as one of the best dressed] still,” he claims, whilst also showing love to Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Tom Davies, Josh King, Mason Holgate and Ben Godfrey.
But, has the self-proclaimed fashion king of the Everton squad ever taken it too far with an outfit? “Nah, I’ve never been roasted for an outfit. I got roasted by my friends once for this one pair of trainers though,” he recalls with a groan. “I never had the opportunity to wear them, because my friends dashed them in the bin before I got the chance. They bullied me!”
Now as a more permanent fixture in the Everton starting eleven, the future looks bright for Alex as a talented footballer and well rounded individual, who is grateful for every opportunity the game has blessed him with. There is no doubt that creativity is his most prominent trait but for all of his flair, Alex knows how important it is to work hard at the fundamentals. He constantly reminds himself of the advice given to him at Arsenal, by Arsène Wenger. “He [Wenger] always told me to get the basics right and do them well, and then my natural ability will shine through. As long as I’m doing that and following that advice, I feel like I always play well.”
With mentors like Wenger and Okocha, alongside the unconditional support of his immediate family and close friends, it is really no surprise that Alex remains the expressive, exuberant and multifaceted person he is today. Yet, it is clear that he is able to appreciate the importance of balance and understand how levelling out hard work with reward is just as enjoyable as it is sustainable in achieving long-term success.