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Shola Ameobi Profile

First appeared in the Telegraph on Saturday 25.08.01

On the Spot: Shola Ameobi
By Henry Winter

FEW atmospheres in the Premiership can rival the sound of St James' Park when Sunderland are in toon.  

The old foe from Wearside visit tomorrow and Shola Ameobi, an ardent follower of Newcastle United as well as their precocious young forward, cannot wait.

"The Sunderland game is the one we all look forward to most as fans and players," said Ameobi, 19. "The feeling you get when you walk out at St James' is indescribable. I used to get it when I was sitting in the stands. Now that I am actually walking out on to the pitch and listening to the fans it's a dream come true.

"Every time I walk out it's an unbelievable feeling. I feel lucky to be in the position I'm in. I just want to thank the people who have helped me get this far and thank God as well."

Those people are many. From family to footballing folk, Ameobi is fortunate to have been guided by kind hearts and wise heads. His father, who moved from Nigeria to study in Newcastle when Shola was five, encouraged his sports-mad son to continue with his A-levels until football took over. Kevin Keegan enthused Shola when he first joined Newcastle at 13. Alan Shearer has constantly offered the rangy striker advice and backing during training.

However, the man who has most accelerated Ameobi's development is Bobby Robson, who has advised the teenager on such things as timing of runs to smiling at referees. "The manager has been at the highest level - England, Barcelona - and to work with him now is just brilliant," continued Ameobi.

"He's brought through Ronaldo, who is one of the greatest strikers in the world. It's fantastic to know I am learning every day from a great leader. Being from up north, he's fantastic for us. He is like a father figure. He likes a laugh, which gives a relaxed atmosphere around the club. It's like now, when we have a lot of injuries, he always manages to get everyone up."

Assailed by injuries, particularly to forwards like Shearer and Carl Cort, Robson turned to Ameobi, whom he believes is "going to be a very good player".

Ameobi takes up the story. "This time last year I was in the youth team but in September I made my first-team debut against Chelsea at St James'. It was a memorable day. I was put straight in at the deep end and it was fantastic. I was really encouraged by the manager. I can't thank him enough."

Most remarkable about Ameobi's debut was his refusal to be in awe of World Cup-winning centre-half Marcel Desailly. "I don't let anything faze me; if I play with the youth team or the first team, it's all the same to me. I am not afraid of trying things on the pitch. That's what my game's about. I've got quite a lot of confidence."

Ameobi's emergence is such that some influential figures within Newcastle question whether they need Andy Cole, who they have been linked with. Ameobi's potential is obvious the moment he receives possession; he attempts things others leave on the training ground.

"I've had those skills ever since I can remember; when I was at school I had them. I don't know where I got the skills from." In the genes? "My dad played football but not for any big team, just at school in Nigeria."

Though now an England Under-21 regular, Ameobi's roots are in West Africa. "We came over here from Zaria, in Nigeria, when I was five because my dad was doing his PhD in agriculture at Newcastle University. We've been here ever since. I go back to Nigeria as often as possible to see relatives."

His father has always been a strong force in his life. "He always encouraged me to stay on at school; my father told me I had to stick at my education in case anything happens in football. He's right. I did a year of A-levels in maths and biology and would have gone on and done physiotherapy."

However, sport dominated his thoughts. "I played basketball for my school, Heaton Manor. I also played cricket for them, but only batting; I wasn't the best bowler! You name a sport and I've played it."

Football, though, was taking increasing hold. "I was at Walker Central [Boys Club] with Brian Clark, who was a scout with Newcastle and works at Walker. He watched me at school, took me to Walker and after a year brought me to Newcastle's School of Excellence."

Walker Central provided a good launchpad. "Lee Clark helped set up Walker Central; he used to come to our training sessions and teach us a few things. I support Newcastle and for one of the [then] players to come down and talk to me was great. Then, when I trained with Newcastle, it was amazing when Keegan came down; he was fantastic. He was always joining in the banter, which was great."

Other strikers helped his development. "Alan Shearer and Kevin Gallacher - when he was here - were fantastic. Every day at training sessions they would come over and tell me things I had done wrong or done well; they were always encouraging me. Alan has to be the striker I admire most in the country; he's an all-rounder, a true professional. Outside the Premiership I just love watching Rivaldo and Raul - they are brilliant strikers."

Two other foreigners also feature in his thoughts. "The great service that Laurent Robert and Nobby Solano can give is a dream for any striker. We lacked that last season without a left-winger. Laurent has come in and done excellently; against Chelsea last Sunday, he was tremendous."

Working with the Under-21s has also assisted Ameobi's rise. "It's good playing with the top young players in the country, like Owen Hargreaves, Michael Carrick and Joe Cole, who have all gone up to the seniors. There is great talent coming through; it looks like a bright future for England. I have another three years in the Under-21s; I'm still young so hopefully I will develop.

"I'm working on everything, really. At first it was quite tough playing against Premiership defences, because physically I wasn't as strong as now. But the fitness coach here, Paul Winsper, has been excellent; he worked with me over the summer and it's starting to show. Hopefully everything will come into place over the next few years and I can be a top striker in the Premiership." St James' will roar its approval of that.

Henry Winter

Page last updated 24 June, 2009