Alex Iwobi and Theo Walcott were Arsene Wenger’s pet projects; rather than spend big in the transfer window, the legendary french gaffer pinned his hopes and aspirations on young players like the duo.
He developed Iwobi from the Arsenal academy and plucked a very young Walcott from Southampton and at the time heralded them as potential future mega stars of the world game.
Theo Walcott naturally played for England and actually did threaten to become a world mega star whilst Iwobi – having elected to pitch his international star to the Super Eagles wagon – chose Nigeria at senior level (a decision that brought him fanatical following amongst a swathe of Super Eagles supporters).
Both would eventually be shown the door at Arsenal having struggled to hit the heights predicted by Arsene Wenger.
Both continue to struggle to establish themselves as truly elite, stellar athletes in club football despite huge potentials we were led to believe they possessed.
In short, Alex Iwobi and Theo Walcott proved to me that the truly elite footballers; the mega stars of the game; the creams of the crop; the proven standout performers – THESE ONES ARE BORN AND NOT MADE.
Walcott and Iwobi are manufactured stars hence why their moments of magic appear in tinctures and are sporadic.
In international football, Walcott did feature for England and at one point truly looked like fulfilling his seemingly huge potentials.
In truth injuries did slow him down a bit but Gareth Southgate told him in 2016 that, as he (Walcott) hadn’t transferred club form to national team output previously, he (Southgate) wouldn’t extend an invitation to him. Walcott has been in international wilderness ever since.
For Nigeria, Iwobi’s fans will most definitely stone you if you as much as state the obvious that he has been rubbish in club football for over 3 years now.
I only had to watch his first 3 matches for Everton in 2019 to conclude that Iwobi will struggle in the Liverpool club if care was not taken. He showed hunger, desire and passion in those 3 matches (all we have come to associate with Iwobi) but is final touches lacked the quality and class associated with the truly world class players.
I made a lot of enemies back then because of my shrewd but well grounded predictions and 3 years on, Iwobi continues to be seen as a flop in the Liverpool club.
I could only observe what was in front of me at the time and issue an unbiased verdict based on what I saw.
For Nigeria, Iwobi is a different beast. At times I am absolutely in awe of and in love with him in Super Eagles colours.
Iwobi has given me so many memorable evergreen moments as a Super Eagles fans that it is easy to see why his fanatical fans will want to bite your head off for stating the obvious ( which is that he has been pretty bland, boring and banal - for the most parts - in the English Premier League over the years).
My loyalty and love for Iwobi will not blind me to the truth when I am applying analysis to club football only.
Whenever any dual nationality player pledges allegiance to Nigeria ahead of England (for instance) an instant emotional bond and connection is formed between that player and the fans.
If the player then shows the right attitude, plays with passion, patriotism and pride with the sort of magical qualities that Iwobi can occasionally conjure, then he will be one with the fans and they will be one with him.
As he is willing to die on the pitch to get results for Nigeria, some fans will be willing to die to defend him even when such criticism is grounded in facts, figures and frameworks that are tried and tested.
Iwobi has become an easy target for some pundits who just take every opportunity to tear into his Everton output. Some go as far as suggesting that Iwobi will not even make Everton’s starting 11 on a good day – rubbish!
He is by no means a poor player.
Iwobi is a decent footballer who is passionate, hard working and determined . He is just not (yet) of the elite spectrum of, say, Sadio Mane, Kylian Mbappe or Mo Salah.
Three years ago, I did initially genuinely think Iwobi belonged to this calibre of players, I have since adjusted my estimation and expectations of him over time - until such a time when he starts to prove me wrong.
Earlier this season, it appeared he was turning a corner under Rafa Benitez but both his and Everton’s fortunes have taken a slight setback lately.
I do pray Iwobi turns his career at Everton around. He is such a likeable and hard working player who gives more and deserves more than the numbers and statistics suggest.
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