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Shola Ameobi Profile

First appeared on the Independent on Sunday 04.02.01

Newcastle will need time to temper Ameobi's talents 

Titi Ameobi is making rapid strides. Last month she won the under-17s 60m title at the north-eastern counties indoor athletics championships in a record time, 7.90 seconds. 

At 16, she is the latest talent to emerge from Gateshead Harriers, the Tyneside club who have produced a trio of Olympic medal winners Jonathan Edwards, Charlie Spedding and Brendan Foster.

As a contemporary club-mate of the Gateshead golden girl, it's a fair bet that Edwards has taken an appreciative interest in her high-speed development.

And, as a regular visitor to St James' Park, the Olympic triple-jump champion is no doubt impressed by the swift progress made by her brother. Twelve months ago, Shola Ameobi was playing youth- team football for Newcastle United. Now he is a veteran of 10 Premiership appearances, eight in a row now in Bobby Robson's starting line-up. He has played in direct opposition to Frank Leboeuf, Marcel Desailly, Rio Ferdinand, Gary Neville, Sol Campbell, Gareth Southgate and Lucas Radebe. He has fired goalscoring shots past Magnus Hedman and Paul Robinson. And he has been offered the chance to play senior international football.

Jo Bonfrere, coach of the Nigerian national side, has asked the 19-year-old to play for the Super Eagles in a friendly against Trinidad and Tobago later this month, which has prompted Howard Wilkinson to consider making the counter-offer of a place in the England Under-21 squad and provoked concern in Bobby Robson. The veteran manager called the fledgling centre-forward into his office for a cautionary word last week.

"I've spoken at length with Shola because I'm concerned about what has been happening," Robson said. "I stressed that he must keep his feet on the ground and not strut about as though he is a fully-fledged international. We have to be careful. Of course the lad has talent, but he's only played a handful of first-team games and hasn't finished some of them. I played 35 games a season for eight years before I was considered ready to be an international.

"We know he's done well but we mustn't allow the lad to get his head in the clouds. It's not a matter of whether he plays for Nigeria or England. It's a matter of him becoming a quality Newcastle United player first. Kieron Dyer is back, and soon Kevin Gallacher, Alan Shearer and Carl Cort will be. I want Shola to concentrate on the pecking order here and on developing his skills."

Robson stopped short of singing that 1964 Animals cult classic "Gonna Send You Back to Walker". Ameobi was discovered as a 6ft tall 13-year-old playing for the Central Boys Club at Walker, the Newcastle suburb from which Eric Burdon hails.

The message, nevertheless, was clear. Robson is anxious to prevent Alan Shearer's temporary replacement going the same way as so many young prodigies. Not that there seems any danger of the 6ft 3in Ameobi getting his head stuck in the clouds, metaphorically at least.

Unlike your average emerging young Premiership star, he has no delusions of grandeur. He happens to be the son of a Christian minister, John Ameobi, who moved with his family from Nigeria to Tyneside 13 years ago to study for a PhD in agriculture at Newcastle University. Shola, one of six children, is a devout Christian himself. He attends church every Sunday. He also has 11 GCSEs.

"I know I have a lot of work ahead of me if I'm going to make it in football," he said. "I'm still only 19. I've got a lot to learn and so much work to do. I won't make the mistake of thinking I've made it too early."

It would be a mistake, too, as the sobering evening Ameobi experienced at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday emphatically underlined. "Shola's inexperience in a tough job leading the line caught up with him," Robson conceded, after a disappointing performance by the gangling youngster in Newcastle's 3-1 defeat. With Shearer and Cort still on the road to rehabilitation and with Gallacher suffering from a virus, though, the teenager is likely to be on line-leading duty again when Glenn Hoddle's Saints go marching into St James' Park this afternoon.

Ameobi is far from the finished article, but between the many uncertain touches he has shown flashes of high promise since making his full debut on Boxing Day. They have not gone unnoticed at St James' Park, either. "He's come from our academy and done very well," Robson acknowledged. "He's not fully developed, he's still very coltish. But when he finds his rhythm, when he gets his legs in tandem with his body, we'll make him a player. We'll make him a good player." 

The young colt could not be in better hands.

Simon Turnbull

Page last updated 24 June, 2009