Arsenal's rising starlet Alex Iwobi has revealed that the Football Association made a last-ditch effort to convince him to play for England's national team but failed.
The 19-year-old was forced to make the difficult decision after Nigeria called him up to their senior side for a recent Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers against Egypt. Despite a final plea from England, he chose the Super Eagles and played in both legs to end any speculation over his international future.
Having moved to London at the age of four and acquiring 11 appearances for the Three Lions across several different age groups, it was a decision that surprised many.
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And as he becomes a more prominent star for the Gunners, it is one that is likely to come under the spotlight many times over the ensuing years. Indeed, fans are already wondering why England allowed such a talented youngster to slip through their fingers.
But Iwobi has attempted to explain exactly why he made the decision to represent the country of his birth. Although he admits that late phone call made his decision a little bit harder, he says it is the fanatical fans that convinced him to play for the West African nation.
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“It was a difficult decision picking Nigeria over England,” he told Arsenal Player.
“England did contact me recently before I played my first competitive match for Nigeria, asking if I wanted to play for England. I’m very proud to represent Nigeria but I would like to say thank you to England for the chance they gave me, it was a difficult decision.
“The love Nigeria showed me… when I played for them in a friendly, the fans were just crazy. The fans almost eat you up because they love you so much. I’m enjoying playing for them.
“When you’re getting out of the airport there are fans already there screaming ‘Arsenal, Arsenal. Gunners for life!’ and it’s just mad. Some of them have Arsenal shirts and then others will ask me for Arsenal shirts. It’s a bit mad and the fans are crazy.”
Not only is Iwobi from Nigeria but his uncle is one of the country's greatest ever players: Jay-Jay Okocha. And, of course, the former Bolton Wanderers star played a crucial role in his decision-making process. Speaking to The Sun last week, he says the family connection to Nigeria was one that was impossible to ignore.
Iwobi said: “I understand why some England fans are surprised with my decision. It was a difficult one to make, one I thought very carefully about. I have no regrets.
“I have always been part of the England youth set-up and have 11 caps at Under-16, Under-17 and Under-18 levels. But when I was first invited by the Nigeria FA, my dad told me to follow my heart and that is what I have done.”
Having fast-tracked him into his senior squad, it is clear Arsene Wenger thinks the world of his latest academy prospect and he recently spoke of his disbelief that England did not snap him up when they had the chance. The Frenchman believes Iwobi's head was turned when he was overlooked for England's Under-19 squad.
“He should be playing for England,” Wenger said in January.
“He played for the England youth teams for a while but when it came to the under-19s, they didn’t pick him.”
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