Shola Ameobi


By Anthony Marshall - Newcastle United Managing Editor

 

Shola Ameobi could be heading to this summer's World Cup, less than two years after winning his first cap for Nigeria. And the long-serving United striker sat down for a chat about an Italian inspiration and expectation levels…

 

How excited are you about the forthcoming World Cup?

First and foremost, the prospect of being at a World Cup is incredible.

It's something that you dream of doing as a kid, and I remember watching the 1990 tournament, imagining myself one day doing playing in something like that.

So to hopefully get the chance this summer, and not in just any World Cup but one in Brazil, would be unbelievable.

It's something that I never really thought would happen, coming into the latter stages of my career, but I'm just excited and hopeful of a spot.

 

What are your memories of that 1990 World Cup, the first you can remember?

Obviously England's semi-final against Germany, which went all the way to penalties, was a special match.

Sir Bobby Robson and Paul Gascoigne - both local heroes here - were heavily involved, and I remember a lot of pride at what had been achieved by England, even though it ended in disappointment.

The whole nation seemed to come together during that World Cup and that is what this tournament does. There is a sense of unity for one common cause.

We used to go out in the street and pretend to be our favourite player. At that time, because of the World Cup, I was always Toto Schillacii, of Italy.

It was always a dream back then, pretending that you were those players and that you were performing at the highest level.

 

What was it about Schillaci that made him stand out?

The goals he scored. He didn't start the tournament but as it went on he was just incredible.

He lifted that Italian side and took them nearly all the way.

Toto Schillaci was star of the 1990 World Cup and every kid wanted to be him - myself included.

 

So you wouldn't mind having a similar impact to Schillaci this summer then?

Yes, and you know what, anything is possible. I know that with God, anything can happen, especially in football.

Out in Brazil, with the climate as it is, there are definitely going to be some shock results - no question about it.

Hopefully the smaller teams can take advantage of it, and we will be trying to do just that.

 

A couple of years ago you were still uncapped by Nigeria, so the position you currently find yourself in must have seemed a million miles away

When FIFA changed the rules it was something I tried to explore, but for one reason or another it never quite happened.

I may have played for England at under-21 level, but Nigeria is my birthplace, my motherland.

My parents always wanted me to represent Nigeria and it is something I also wanted to do for a long time.

It never quite worked out until the previous manager stepped in. He came and asked me what I thought, I committed to them.

I was so proud making my debut against Venezuela (in November 2012). That was one of the most special moments in my career.

 

Would it be topped by pulling on the national jersey at a World Cup?

Definitely. Without a doubt.

That's the ultimate, and as a professional you strive to reach the very highest level you can. There's no greater level in our sport than the World Cup.

I've dreamed about this all my life, and for it to potentially become reality would definitely go above and beyond anything I've ever done in my career.

 

How do you think Nigeria can fare in Group F, alongside Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iran?

Argentina will be favourites to win the group, if not the whole tournament, so in my mind it is all about how we get on against Bosnia and Iran.

Fortunately for us we play those two first and don't have to worry about Argentina until the final game.

If we could get off to a winning start and then pick something up in the second match as well, that could be enough.

The worst thing we can do is be complacent but I do think we have the tools to beat Iran and Bosnia.

 

What's the mood like in Nigeria ahead of the World Cup?

There is massive expectations, having won the Africa Cup of Nations last year and been undefeated throughout the whole of last season.

When you have that sort of success, expectation levels rise, and there is a real sense that we can progress in this tournament.

And that extends to the players as well, as we feel we should be getting out of the group.

That would be an achievement in itself and then you go into one-off games, where anything can happen.

 

This article was first produced for Newcastle United's official matchday programme against Cardiff City on Saturday, 3rd May. To purchase a copy of the World Cup special publication, click here.