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Adebayo Akinfewa exclusive: "I sat down with the WWE a year ago and said I’d let them know when I retire"

WWE
(Image credit: Wycombe Wanderers)

This interview first appeared in the December 2020 edition of FourFourTwo. Subscribe now and get your first five issues for just £5!

Early in your career, you spent time playing in Lithuania. How did that happen?

I was on trial with Watford when my agent, who was married to a Lithuanian and knew about the country, arranged for the president of Atlantas Klaipeda to come over and watch me play. I was unsuccessful at Watford, but got invited to Lithuania instead. To be honest, I’d never even heard of Lithuania! They were in the UEFA Cup and had a strong squad, but in my first game I was subjected to monkey chants and the crowd sang about “shooting ni**ers”. I was only 18 and on the receiving end of that, a long way from home. I chose to stay for the season, as I didn’t want to let the racists win. We reached the cup final and I scored the winning goal.

You’ve repeatedly been mocked over your weight during your career...

It’s even the small things, like people saying, “He has a good touch for a big man.” My size plays no part in my touch – why mention it? But as you get older, you become a lot more comfortable in your own skin. Dealing with sizeism is so much easier when you’ve been playing the game for two decades and scored over 200 goals.

What’s been the standout moment of your career so far?

Nothing comes close to winning promotion with Wycombe last season – the impossible was made possible. My biggest low had been missing a penalty in the shootout of the 2006 League One play-off final with Swansea. We lost to Barnsley, and I never imagined that it would take me nearly 15 years to finally play in the Championship.

You’ve had 15 spells at 13 different clubs, but have stayed at Wycombe since 2016. Why do you feel so at home there?

Timing has been crucial. I arrived at 34, there wasn’t much more I was looking to get out of football, and I just wanted to enjoy it while I still could. But then I teamed up with Gareth Ainsworth, a manager I believe is a unique individual. We blend very well. It’s a fantastic place to be, and I’d be shocked if I didn’t end my career with Wycombe.

No big-money Premier League move, then?

[Laughs] Listen, I know what I’m good at and how to score goals – but defenders in League Two are quicker than me, so Premier League ones would be even faster. My game doesn’t change if you go up a level, so I'd back myself to score in the top flight. Will I get a chance to prove it? Never say never, but it's unlikely. 

You've reached the peak of your career at the age of 38. Why have you found your best form in your advancing years?

I remember making fun of my dad’s tracksuit bottoms when I was a kid. He said, “Once I’m comfortable, it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks. ”I’ve learned that for myself as I’ve got older. I’m comfortable with who I am as a person. As soon as
you find out what you’re good at, focus on it and take it as far as you can. I’m not the fastest and I don’t do stepovers – I just focus on the things that bring out the best in my team-mates. I wish I’d understood what my dad said when I was young –  if I’d had this mindset back then, I’d have reached this position much earlier.

You’re of Nigerian descent. Has there ever been talk of a call-up to the national side?

When I was 20, I sat down with the Nigeria Under-21s coach and there were talks about joining a training camp. But luckily for Nigeria – and unfortunately for me – they’ve always produced strikers that played at the highest level. I never have, so it was hard to break in.

You’re a Liverpool fan – what was it like to score against them in a 2015 FA Cup tie?

It’s one of the most mind-boggling moments of my life. It’s the only time I’ve scored a goal and had no idea what to do. I celebrated in front of the Liverpool fans and thought, ‘Why are our fans swearing at me?’ – I was so lost. Then I realised they weren’t my team’s fans! On the walk out for kick-off, I was like, ‘Wow, there’s Henderson, Gerrard, Coutinho...’ and I think I gave away about 12 free-kicks in the first 10 minutes. I was so pumped.

When you left AFC Wimbledon in 2016, you invited bosses to hit you up on WhatsApp. Did Jurgen Klopp ever slide into your DMs?

[Laughs] He didn’t hit me up, but it all worked out in the end! It’s gone down as one of the funniest post-game interviews, but it worked. I had interest from Brazil, Iraq, Mexico, Qatar, Turkey and Greece. It was crazy.

You’ve been the strongest man on several editions of FIFA. Is there anyone who could run you close in an arm wrestle?

I don’t think so, because I know what I do in the gym. I love working out with powerlifters. I’m pushing 196kg – footballers don’t need to do that, but I like it. Do I think there’s another player who can lift that much weight? No. I’m not even quietly confident about it, I’m loudly confident. When I fractured my leg at Swansea in 2006 and couldn’t train, I started to hit the gym more. We shared a training facility with the Ospreys rugby team – they were big guys and I caught the bug.

Rugby and American football teams have tried to recruit you – were you tempted?

I’m an NFL ambassador and have taken part in some sessions. But I like being the biggest guy on the pitch, and I’m not when I step on  an American football or rugby pitch. They are big boys, so I’m sticking to football for now!

You’ve said WWE and acting are potential avenues you’d like to go down...
I sat down with WWE chiefs a year ago and said I’d decide when I’ve hung up my boots. I’m meeting an LA producer about making a movie, and Netflix have called. I want to embrace new things once football is over. I don’t see myself coaching, so let’s see what Hollywood’s saying.

Which footballer would give you most enjoyment wrestling?

[Laughs] Who would I like to chokeslam? Which footballers have done me dirty recently? I think it’s one of those where you want to test your strength. Since Lukaku went to Inter he’s been looking very strong, he’s moving powerfully. Virgil van Dijk, as well, another big boy. I think we may need to have a Royal Rumble with those boys and a few others. Last man standing, let’s go!

You’ve called out Anthony Joshua on Twitter– you’re friends now, but do you think he could handle you in full Beast Mode at boxing?

He’d put me to sleep! Look, I’m just a footballer, he’s a world champion. I’ve seen his training regime and he’d put me to sleep. I don’t want that smoke! [Laughs]

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Ed is a staff writer at FourFourTwo, working across the magazine and website. A German speaker, he’s been working as a football reporter in Berlin since 2015, predominantly covering the Bundesliga and Germany's national team. Key FFT features include an exclusive interview with Jude Bellingham following the youngster’s move to Borussia Dortmund in 2020, a history of the Berlin Derby since the fall of the Wall and a celebration of Kevin Keegan’s playing career.