Last week’s Premier League transfer deadline day was marked by a number of high-profile signings. Romelu Lukaku went from Manchester United to Inter Milan, while David Luiz switched from one London-based club (Chelsea) to another (Arsenal). One of the more under-the-radar moves was Everton’s signing of former Arsenal man and Nigeria international, Alex Iwobi. Iwobi made the £40 million switch from his boyhood club to Merseyside in the most-expensive transfer for a Nigerian player ever.
Iwobi became the sixth-most expensive African transfer ever. Interestingly enough, Egypt’s Mohamed Salah, who has won the Golden Boot in back-to-back seasons with Liverpool, was pushed down to seventh after Iwobi’s move.
While Iwobi didn’t necessarily rank as one of the biggest names to move on deadline day, his move does ensure that he will remain high in Nigeria’s pecking order for the foreseeable future. While most will view moving from a prestigious club like Arsenal to an also-ran like Everton as a step down for the player, he will be afforded chances with the Toffees that he couldn’t get with the Gunners. Frankly, most football betting sites give Everton very little chance of even competing for a Champions League spot this season. According to these sites, oddsmakers list Iwobi’s Everton around 14/1 just to finish in the top-four of the English top flight.
So, while Iwobi is essentially forfeiting the chance at European success and other team success with Arsenal, moving to Everton will give him the chance to actually play. With all the attacking talent in North London, Iwobi’s path to playing time at the Emirates was murky at best. The team has signed big-name attackers like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette in recent years. Any playing time Iwobi may have gotten in the upcoming season for Arsenal was quickly snatched up when the team splurged to sign Nicolas Pepe from Lille.
While staying at a big club and fighting for minutes is admirable, taking the step down with a move to Everton is likely best for Iwobi’s career at this time. Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr has made no bones about the fact that the players that get consistent playing time at the club level have the inside track when it comes to earning regular minutes for the national side. So, if Iwobi wanted to maintain his role in the Super Eagles’ starting XI, a move away from Arsenal almost had to happen.
Would it have been impossible for Iwobi to crack Unai Emery’s side? Of course not. He is still just 23, and injuries happen all the time in this game. Pepe (or one of the team’s other numerous attackers) going down would have afforded Iwobi an instant opportunity. That said, nothing is certain when it comes to injuries. Iwobi knows he needs to play if he wants to retain the attention of Rohr.
Just look at Kelechi Iheanacho, who has fallen down the pecking order with Nigeria because he has so rarely been afforded the chance to actually get on the pitch for his club. Ilheanacho was productive during his time at Manchester City, but he was essentially forced to move to Leicester City in order to earn more regular playing time with the first team.
Considering his youth, a move to Goodison Park at this stage of his career is hardly a death knell for Iwobi’s long-term prospects. There is still more than enough time for him to play his way back into the eyes of some of Europe’s biggest clubs. The fact that he has spent the last 17 years in the Arsenal system is a testament to his high talent level.
Everton coach Marco Silva has gone on the record to say that Iwobi will be a factor for the Toffees this term. Right after his signing was announced, Silva said, “Alex was one of our main targets for this window. He is a direct and skillful winger who fits exactly the profile of player I want in my model.”
While Silva’s words are good for Iwobi’s playing time prospects, it remains to be seen which role the player will fill with the national side. He may well play on the wing with Everton, but Rohr has most often deployed Iwobi as a central midfielder. The Super Eagles have struggled to fill that position in recent years, which is why Iwobi is essentially forced to play out of position.
Interestingly enough, ESPN says that a source close to Iwobi indicated that the move to Everton would help the player adapt to a No. 10 role. If Silva wants to play him on the wing, that may not necessarily endear Rohr to the idea of including him in the first team in the future. With Gylfi Sigurdsson entrenched as Everton’s No. 10, it’s hard to see how Iwobi will factor into that role at the club.
Regardless, the chance to actually play will undoubtedly benefit Iwobi’s development moving forward at both the domestic and international level. Being one of the most-expensive African transfer targets of all-time means Iwobi will be dealing with massive expectations from a new group of supporters for the first time. How he fares under that spotlight will go a long way toward determining what kind of player Nigeria will have in the years ahead.
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