When youngsters make their breakthrough, it is quite tempting to get carried away and adorn them with lavish comparisons and tags that only serve to add pressure to their slender shoulders.
So many have tumbled down the leagues and out of the glare of the public eye after such a dazzling birth onto the footballing stage. Was this purely down to the weight of expectation? No, but it certainly doesn’t aid them.
If these starlets push through the inevitable difficult times that succeed their bursting onto the scene, then that is the watermark for a long and prosperous career, for if they can overcome such testing times at such an age, then their much talked of ‘mental strength’ is exactly where it needs to be.
There are a few who fit this bill that currently ply their trade in the Premiership. Kelechi Iheanacho and Marcus Rashford certainly have grabbed the plaudits, but crucially, they have continued their incline towards the stars in the face of doubts from their respective managers, and reduced playing time.
They have shown they have the mettle to ally with their gargantuan talent, and our very own Alex Iwobi deserves to be included in this exclusive group – and perhaps even eclipse them both.
The second half of last season was Iwobi’s moment, and he grabbed it in spectacular fashion. Arsenal’s annual injury crisis affected their midfield last term, and it was the opening that the Nigerian craved.
It is all well and good being given the chance, it is another thing entirely to take the chance. Coming into the side, and with the team struggling for form, Alex showed maturity beyond his years, and his displays were ample to sway Wenger in including him in his long term plans.
So, this season, the expectation was there, where previously there was none, yet you could be fooled into thinking that Iwobi hasn’t noticed. He has continued where he has left off, and maybe even shown growth in such a short space of time.
To be fair, for a yongster learning his trade, is there a better place to be? Every day he turns up to Colney, he has the pleasure of suckling at the teat of greatness in the form of Ozil, Sanchez, Cazorla and others. Players who Iwobi can glean so much from, and it has certainly started to show.
Five goals and four assists in sixteen Premier League appearances (correct at the time of writing) only tells half the tale of the burgeoning talent that is our Number17.
As a fan, the natural tendency is to err towards bias, but with close scrutiny – and with zero bias – Iwbi’s first touch ranks alongside some of the best at the club, falling just short of Ozil standards. His vision has repeatedly been the key that has unlocked the tightest of defences, and his passing has not been missed by fans watching his every move.
He really has shown that he can cut it at the highest level. All of the above superlatives would be complimentary to a 25-26yr old player, but Iwobi is just 20.
Standing shoulder to shoulder with our finest players and rightfully belonging in their company, must mean staying grounded is difficult, but the signs are good thus far.
What really stands out, is that Iwobi is this good already, and he has so many formative years left to become an absolute monster of a player. If you consider a growth chart of a child, then put into place the first five years of a players career as the time that builds a players style, strength and touch – then the Nigerian’s end point would be off the scale.
Iheanacho, Rashford and especially Iwobi are destined to make an impact, and their talent is just half of the story. Football players may lead a charmed life in many respects, but the fact they have overcome the tough period that follows their breakthrough speaks volumes.
Alex Iwobi could be a vital part of Arsenal’s future for the next ten to twelve years. He has everything we could ever want from aplayer, and after coming through the ranks at London Colney, the affection he has for the club could be the key to keeping hold of him, because let’s face it – everybody is going to want him.