Chuba Akpom has been dubbed as a future star in the English game, both with Arsenal and his national side. We spoke to Chuba about where he sees his future in the game and how his relationship with God plays into his career.
Chuba, let’s start at the beginning, what was it like to be snapped up by a huge club like Arsenal at such a young age?
It was good, obviously at first you just play football for the fun of it and I didn’t realise how big it was, but as you get older you start to realise that it’s a massive club. Football gets more and more serious. It was a bit of a surprise, I had West Ham, Chelsea and Arsenal that came in for me at first and eventually I chose Arsenal because I grew up supporting them.
You have managed to break into the Arsenal first team on a few occasions, is it a surreal feeling when you think you were only 17?
It was good, you know it’s everyone’s dream to play in the Premier League and then to make my debut at such a young age was a crazy feeling. I came on for Olivier Giroud which wasn’t bad.
What’s it like to be managed by a legend of the game in Arsene Wenger?
Yeah it’s crazy, he’s such an experienced guy and a legend. To be managed by someone with so much experience is crazy, when I was at Arsenal I would see him every day when we used to train.
Wenger has said in recent times that he believes you can make the step up to first team football with the Gunners, does this motivate you to make it happen?
Yeah definitely, it gives you a breath of fresh air, like relief that he puts his confidence in you. He says it to me all of the time, he just says that I need to keep working hard when I go out on loan and then I will come back a better player. I have been in the first team for two years now and I have learnt so much from him so far.
Let’s talk about England, you have come up through the youth ranks from U16s, are you confident of kicking on to represent the senior side?
Yeah definitely, I am confident and I have just signed a new deal so I the next chance that I get, I’ve just got to take it.
What’s your best XI of people you’ve played with?
Goalkeeper, I’d say Petr Cech. Left back I’d say Luke Shaw, centre backs I would say Laurent Koscielny and there was a boy at Arsenal called Sead, I don’t know where he is now but he was a good player. Right back I would say Hector Bellerin. Right midfield I’d say Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain and my centre midfilder’s would be Santi Cazorla and Tomas Rosicky. Left wing I am going to go for Alexis Sanchez. Up front for my strikers I am going to put Theo Walcott and behind him, Jack Wilshere.
Who’s the best player you’ve ever played against?
In training, I would say Laurent Koscielny.
Chuba you are very open about your Christian faith, when did you first encounter God?
I was brought up in a strong and religious house really, ever since I was born. I always went to church from an early age and from the age of about 16 it became my own faith. When I get time to, because we have a lot of football going on, I go definitely around Christmas and definitely around Easter.
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Do you feel that God has given you the global platform of football so that you can make a big impact for him?
Yeah I think that God gives you the talent and the rest is up to you, because not everyone is talented enough to play football but they all have their own. God has given me the talent and I have worked hard on top of that to get where I am now.
Have you had any positive ‘God chats’ with team mates who don’t know God?
Yeah I had one the other week, with England. We were talking about the exact same thing, they were asking “are you a footballer because of God or because of your hard work?” I said to them what I thought. The whole team was listening.
So who you bounce off or chat to about your faith?
There’s no one in particular, a few of them at Arsenal do their prayers, Mesut Ozil, he’s religious.
There are a few religious players but I just keep it to myself really in my prayers before I go out onto the pitch. I pray a lot.
Does God feature in your pre-match routine?
Yeah definitely, before I step on the pitch, if you have watched me then you would probably notice, I pick up a blade of grass and then I do the sign of the cross. I do a short prayer before kick-off and if I score a goal I do the sign of the cross. When I have a bad game I pray and if I have a good game I pray, I guess if I have had a good game then I thank God for giving me the strength to score. If I don’t have a good game then I pray that I would understand and that he’d help me in my next performance, to be better than the performance that I just gave.