Alex Iwobi: Confidence is massive - you can't make it without it

The Arsenal forward tells FFT about his powerful mindset, why foreign players in Premier League academies are a good thing and his hatred for leg day

We’ve always found debuts a nerve-wracking experience – how was yours?

Honestly, I wasn’t nervous at all. There were a few other youngsters who were also making their debuts and wanted to impress, which probably took the pressure off me a little bit. The game was on Sky, so I was just excited to get out there and show the world what I could do. I told myself to do the simple things well and I knew if I did that then the rest of my game would come together. It was a dream come true for me.

More after the break

 

What advice did Arsene Wenger give you before the game?

The manager just kept it really simple and didn’t over complicate his message. He told everyone to enjoy themselves because that’s the reason why we’d started playing football in the first place. I think that helped to put myself and the rest of the boys at ease. Unfortunately we didn’t get the result we wanted on the night but it was a great learning curve.

How would you describe yourself as a player?

It’s always hard talking about your own game, but I’d say I’m creative and I can score goals. My weakness is definitely heading, I can’t head the ball at all, which I always get stick for in training. I also have a few tricks in my locker, and I like making chances and setting up goals for my team-mates. I’ve played a lot of football this season and I want to start scoring a few more goals now I’ve got some experience under my belt.

 

Do you need to have a certain type of personality to become a top player?

I think confidence is massive. It’s so important for every player. I don’t think you can do well in football without confidence. When you have a lot of self-belief you start to take risks and do things that you know you’re capable of. You trust your ability more and you take more ownership of the game. Mental strength is also very important – every player makes mistakes but you have to back yourself to get on the ball and make something happen the next time you get it.

Is there any advice you would give to a player who wants to become a professional?

The advice I’ve always been given is to just express myself and play the game with a smile on my face. You also have to listen to your coaches – they have years and years of experience, and their knowledge will improve you as a player. It’s important to believe in your ability as well - having that inner self-belief is something you need when you’re going through a bad run of form.

 

Lots of players sign professional contracts, but don’t fulfill their potential – why do you think you made it and others didn’t?

When you’re in the 16-18 age bracket it’s more of a man’s game rather than just playing for fun. You have to mature quickly and have the right mental attitude in terms of actively improving yourself every day, which is something I think I’ve done. There is always someone else waiting to take your place, so you have to make sure you want it more than anyone else.

Modern academies are full of different nationalities – has that experience benefited you? 

Definitely, you understand a lot more about how different teams play from different countries. Some are more physical or technical, other nationalities place more emphasis on tactics, so you gain an understanding of that through speaking to players from different backgrounds in the dressing room. On a human level it’s a good experience as well, listening to how people have grown up in another country. Jeff Reine-Adelaide is from France and he’s a good friend of mine. Initially, he couldn’t speak much English and it was difficult to understand him, but he’s really improved and I’ve learned a bit of French as well. I’ve learned a lot from him.

 

Are you a player who uses the gym to work on different areas of fitness?

I probably train in the gym twice a week. When our matches come thick and fast we don’t do anything too intense in the gym. When we go in, it’s largely to maintain the strength in our legs, simply because that’s the part of the body we use mainly in football. I work on my hamstrings and quads. My hamstrings are very stiff so I do Romanian deadlifts to work on them. I hate that exercise! I hate Bulgarian squats as well, but I just have to grit my teeth and get on with them. A couple of days later you feel really strong, so it’s worth it.

 

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