Ameobi steps out of his big brother's shadow
Sammy amazed at rapid progress at Newcastle but admits he has got a 'lot to learn from Shola'
Saturday 03 December 2011
For every young player successfully making his way in the game, there comes a moment when it resonates that he is more than just a footballer, but equally something of a public property, cast into the spotlight as the latest, albeit at this stage bit-part, character in the all-consuming soap opera that is the Premier League.
For Sammy Ameobi, it arrived recently, as he tucked into peri-peri chicken at an establishment that has become synonymous with his peers. "I was asked for an autograph at Nando's the other day," the engaging Newcastle forward revealed, his smile a mix of bemusement and recognition that he is no longer merely Shola's kid brother, but a blossoming talent in his own right.
"I'm getting recognised more regularly now," the teenager added. This, as if to underline the centrality of the sport in the national psyche, after just a single top-flight start, and a handful of substitute appearances for his hometown club. It's a tally he hopes to add to today in place of the suspended Jonas Gutierrez at home to Chelsea. The 19-year-old added: "Hopefully, I'm handling it quite well, even though I'm not one to spend a lot of my spare time in and around the town, I'm more of a private person, I like hanging out at home."
His occasional dalliances with Nando's aside, Ameobi is no identikit footballer. Far from it. Down to earth and articulate, modest to the point of self-deprecation, this is an individual who, after joining the club as a trainee three years ago in the wake of gaining 11 GCSEs, won't fritter away a glorious career opportunity. Any urge to over-celebrate should the hosts increase Chelsea's current woes with a victory to stretch their eight-month unbeaten home record will be tempered by the knowledge that for the tight-knit Ameobi family, Sunday morning means one thing: church, at 10.30am, sharp.
"If I'm not up and around, my parents will be knocking on my bedroom door, waking me up," Ameobi, who still lives at the family home in Fenham, barely a mile from St James' Park, added. "My faith's important to me. It's not just Shola that's been a massive influence on me, so has my family and my religion. They've all hopefully helped keep my feet on the ground.
"It could have been easy to get carried away with things, but that's not the way I was raised, so it won't be the way I live my life. To be honest, it's not what I expected at all in terms of my progress into the side. I thought the process would be a lot slower than it actually has. It's been amazing, and it's up to me to make the most of my opportunity."
The reward of a new three-and-a-half-year contract, in addition to an England Under-21 debut, arrived around the same time as his first League start. Conversely, the arrest of two teenagers for allegedly posting racist abuse on his Twitter account also gave Ameobi a glimpse into the unwanted consequences of footballing celebrity: "It's part of the whole package," he added: "You have to be able to deal with the good things and the bad."
Ameobi hesitates when asked if he's now on level terms with big brother Shola, 10 years his senior. It's a pertinent query, given his full debut arrived at Manchester City last month while his older sibling looked on from the bench. "I guess, but I've got a lot to learn to reach his standard." He smiled: "I'd never dare take the mickey for me being in the team and him not. I know my place in the family! Saying that, I've framed the teamsheet from that game!"
In one of football's quirks, a full home debut could arrive facing the club against who Shola took his Newcastle bow a dozen years ago, that appearance memorable for his refusal to back down in a confrontation with pint-sized pugilist Dennis Wise. "I was there to see Shola then, and it had a lasting impression on me to try and follow in his footsteps one day. I was only in year four at school, so it's a good job it was an afternoon game. Had it been an evening kick-off, it would probably have been past my bed-time."
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