AFS meets Hope Akpan
Africa Football Shop are proud to introduce Hope Akpan , Reading’s Nigerian midfielder and AFS’s Championship columnist.
In this opening interview Hope talks about his career to date, giving some fascinating insight into Reading’s fortunes over the last 12 months, and also about his desire to represent the Super Eagles at the World Cup this summer.
Expect to hear a lot more from Akpan on Africa Football Shop over the coming weeks and months.
AFS: Hope, I think it’s fair to say you’ve experienced a lot of different things and gone through a whole rollercoaster of emotions in your career to date; promotions, relegations, transfers…tell us about the best moment and the worst moment so far.
Hope Akpan: Yes, thus far I have experienced all of the above, but I guess it is part and parcel of the game. All in all, the things I have gone through have helped me grow as a footballer and as a person, they have helped me to mature very quickly, personally, within the game. The best moments were promotion with Crawley from League Two and making my Premiership debut for Reading. Also, returning so soon to my former club [Everton] where I started my football dream all those years ago.
The downs were obviously being relegated last year and then this year having a spell out through injury and being out of favour. It is definitely the case that I have learned and developed so much more from having gone through these downs.
AFS: The last time we spoke, you were in the midst of a relegation battle with Reading. Unfortunately, the Royals were unable to beat the drop, how was that experience and how was the mood in the camp during those final few games and the early portion of the summer? When were you able to start looking forward to the future?
Hope: It was tough dealing with relegation and was a strange experience for me as career-wise I was still in better shape than I had been a few months earlier. But nobody likes to lose and that feeling stuck with me throughout the summer period.
Overall, the team had a new manager [Nigel Adkins] so things were positive and moving in a fresh, new direction so attention was diverted from relegation initially. However, I do believe the team suffered from a lack of confidence, perhaps, in the early part of the season. With us being in the promotion-hunt now, as we approach the back-end of the season, I think our focus is fully on that moving forward.
AFS: You have struggled with injury over the last few months, has this been a new experience for you, and how have you managed to cope with time on the sidelines? I imagine it was very frustrating to watch on as Reading lost their Premier League status, while you were unable to contribute. I believe that earlier in the season you made 10 consecutive substitute appearances for Reading . How did you find being on the bench? I assume this was not a situation you were accustomed to.
Hope: Being injured was a tough pill to swallow at the end of last season, but injuries are part of the game. Obviously, the new manager came in and I wanted a chance to impress, but it didn’t work out that way. I’ve had to wait a long time for a chance this season, but in that time I have learnt a lot and now I’m in the team I am determined not to experience those feelings again. After two seasons of playing a lot of games, featuring from the bench was not ideal, but I just saw each appearance from the bench as another opportunity to impress the manager.
AFS: If you had to pick a few key differences out between the Premier League and the Championship, what would spring to mind?
Hope: I think the Premiership teams have quality throughout [the squad], each player in each position is a threat and also anybody coming off the bench is usually of high quality too. There is more build-up play in the Premiership, and teams give you a bit more time on the ball. The championship is ferocious, with the play going from end-to-end frequently. Both leagues are still very exciting and extremely competitive.
AFS: On Jan 18th, you scored as Reading trounced Bolton 7-1—how did it feel to be part of such a dominant victory? Was there a sense that everything just came together on that day? How did it feel to get your first Reading goal? Has the team’s fine of form changed the team’s expectations for the season?
Hope: Scoring my first goal for Reading in a historic home win was really good, but it has only made me even hungrier for more goals. On the day we played well and took our chances against a strong Bolton side. The squad has taken a lot of confidence from that game and are hoping to gather some momentum for the second half of the season.
AFS: You have expressed a desire to represent the Nigeria national team—has there been any contact from the NFF selectors or Stephen Keshi? What do you believe you could bring to the Nigeria midfield, playing, for example, against John Obi Mikel? What would it mean to play at the World Cup only 2 years after playing in League Two?
Hope: As I have said before, I feel it would be an honour to represent Nigeria by playing in the national side. There have been rumours and whisperings but no solid contact on their behalf. I feel I would bring energy, passing ability and box-to-box midfield play into the side. Playing in the World Cup has been a dream of mine since childhood, so to do that would mean a lot to me and definitely be a special moment, not just in my career but my life.
Hope Akpan was speaking to Africa Football Shop Editor-in-Chief Ed Dove