From beach bar to raising the bar, Shola Ameobi’s year has been an incredible rollercoaster ride. If it ends up in Rio over the summer, it will have been worth it.
The Newcastle striker began 2013 making one of the most difficult decisions of his life – turning down a call from Nigeria for the African Nations Cup. It was a typically unselfish move from the 32-year-old, who had given his word when he signed a contract extension that he would not pursue his international career if it meant weakening Newcastle’s squad during the New Year period.
With United light two strikers – Demba Ba had left and Papiss Cisse was with Senegal – it would have left the Magpies struggling at a time when Alan Pardew needed all the resources he could get. Just as when he played through injury to help Sir Bobby Robson, Ameobi put his club first.
He feared that would be the end of his World Cup dream but Super Eagles boss Stephen Keshi brought him back into the fray after Ameobi gave him a detailed explanation of why. “It is not something I thought was going to happen. I always thought I would be sat in a bar watching it,” the Newcastle striker chuckles.
Ameobi deserves respect for putting club before country, especially at a time when his contractual status remains uncertain.
“Everything that did happen I had to explain,” Ameobi says, about his subsequent meeting with Keshi. “I basically gave my word when I signed my contract that when Papiss and Demba had to go, that meant I couldn’t.
“Did I feel the fact I missed the African Nations Cup would cost me the World Cup? Well Newcastle didn’t want me to go. I gave my world about the African Nations and nothing else. I was disappointed not to play in the African Nations Cup but I am a man of my word and I had to stand by what I said. Everything is fine now, life goes on and I am pleased I have this opportunity.”
At 32, Ameobi has developed into one of Newcastle’s more influential characters behind the scenes and is popular with his team-mates and the manager, who has started him in the last two United games. More minutes gives him more of an opportunity to fulfil his World Cup ambitions.
“I might get a chance to play in it now,” Ameobi says.
“I know nothing about being at a Championships of that magnitude and it is refreshing at my age to get that chance. I am experienced enough to know I might not get that chance again. I will be doing everything I can to get there.”
Of course, Ameobi’s international career began with caps for England under-21s, with Sven-Goran Eriksson once hailing him as a possible future full international. But Ameobi always had mixed feelings about his international alliegances, and is delighted to have got recognition from the country of his birth.
“That was a long time ago. It is surreal really when you think about it,” he said. “I was 21 at the time, a lot going on and the world at my feet. That was all about getting into the Newcastle team back then.
“To think that another opportunity has come up now with Nigeria is a great feeling. It was disappointing never to get called up for the main squad. I was a player who always wanted to play at the highest level.
“That is all I ever wanted to do. I wanted to play international football. When you watch it you want to be involved. I thought my chance had gone. When you look at what has happened with Rickie Lambert it is inspiring to know you can never write anything off in football.
“There are players in squads you never thought would make it who did. In that respect it is very inspiring. It just shows you what hard work can do. It has been great to think the Nigerian coach has recognised what I can bring to the squad.”