New Telegraph

The Canonisation of Iwobi

Football goes beyond the 22 players running round the field in pursuit of a tiny round leather object. It is full of passion and serves as religion to many around the globe. Alex Chuka Iwobi comes from a strong Christian home. Following Super Eagles loss to the Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire in the grand finale of the African Nations Cup on February 11, Iwobi has been an object of Social Media attack. In some extreme cases, members of his extended family have been ridiculed as well. We condemn in its entirety the cyber bullying of the Super Eagles midfielder or any player, in any form. Football is two sided. There will be a winner and a loser will also emerge.

The good part of it is that bad results can also lead to bright prospects. This was highlighted in Cote d’Ivoire when the Elephants literally rose from the dead to win the trophy. They were beaten 1-0 by the Eagles in one of the group matches and were disgraced 4-0 by Equatorial Guinea in the same group. Iwobi, from a family of footballers, has paid his dues. The same star facing undue crucifixion on the Internet today was a hero in 2017, on the way to the Russia 2017 World Cup. His goal in Uyo against Zambia, confirmed Nigeria’s Mundial ticket. What an irony that some of the same fans that chanted ‘Iwobi, Iwobi, Iwobi’, at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium seven years ago, may be in the crowd of those who are blaming him for the loss in Abidjan.

What a way to pour cold water on a patriot. Iwobi abandoned England after playing for them as a junior international. He was ready to switch nationality earlier but the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) expected him to pay his way to camp, an idea that sounded strange to someone who showed love to the country. At the end, his time came and he joined the senior national team. With World Cup experience, Cote d’Ivoire 2023 was the third time Iwobi would grace the African Nations Cup. He has two medals, bronze and silver, hanging round his neck. Cyber bullying is cowardly. We know football triggers the beastly part of some fanatics.

However, there are millions who see the beautiful part of the game. To them, Iwobi represents the glamour and dedication needed to attract positive attention. Iwobi is a fighter, we encourage him to stay and prove to his haters that soccer is full of surprises that are why it is never a deadening bore. Equatorial Guinea could not advance to the quarter finals. World Cup semi- finalists did not make it to the last four and poor Cote d’Ivoire, rose from zero to hero. His uncle Jay Jay Okocha was the toast of the crowd when he debuted in Abidjan in 1993. Seven years later in 2000, the Lagos crowd pelted him with stones after an African Nations Cup draw.

The Eagles went on to play in the grand finale. The same Okocha is eulogised today as the best player that was denied the CAF African Footballer of the Year Award. He was voted Player of the Tournament at the Tunisia 2004 African Nations Cup after leading Nigeria to bronze. Iwobi should see love in the outburst of critics. Emotions are funny. An admirer could show affection negatively after disappointment. Let this be the tonic the star needs to go farther and higher. His fans want him to keep moving, with less distraction and few mistakes. This Iwobi will rise to captain the Super Eagles. Genuine fans believe in him and he should not let them down.

Maduka Okoye suffered the same dishonour; he quit in 2022 and has not really recovered. Iwobi did not quit like his goalie team mate after the Cameroon 2021 African Nations Cup. It is not yet time to say goodbye. People have died because of soccer. El Salvador and Honduras went to war in July 1969 over football. Known as the ‘One Hundred Hours War’, it left 3,000 people dead. Both countries have not abandoned the game. They are no longer fighting outside the field of play. Grandpa and Grannie Iwobi were excited watching little Alex in England. They were happier when their grandson debuted for Nigeria. Chuka, father of Alex, was a player for Vasco Da Gama, Enugu.

He married Okocha’s sister. The family and the entire nation are behind this player. Alex Iwobi will come back greater. He has bronze and silver. Another uncle, Emma Okocha, won silver at Algiers ’90. Jay Jay hit gold, silver and bronze. His nephew can achieve gold. This ambition has a huge support. Iwobi will be carried shoulder high by these same cyber miscreants.

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