With the 2022/23 season coming to a close, Jordan James spoke with Arthur Okonkwo to discuss his early career at Arsenal and recent loan moves to Crewe and Sturm Graz.
Images courtesy of SK Sturm/Sebastian Atzler
Q – What was your childhood like growing up in London and were you always keen to pursue a career in football?
I started to get into football at around seven years old and was lucky to get scouted for Arsenal at eight. My dad loved football and encouraged me to pursue it as I was quite an energetic kid! The only difficulty was balancing secondary school and football, especially when having late night training sessions.
Q – How did the move to Arsenal’s academy come about, at such a young age?
I was doing a trial for a Sunday football club and the coach was the brother of someone who worked for Arsenal. That was a bit of luck but I’m still an Arsenal player today.
Q – As a goalkeeper, who were your sporting role models or influences growing up?
As a youngster, I used to watch Edwin van der Sar as my dad supported Manchester United. He was a really good goalkeeper.
Q – Arsenal will be in the Champions League next season. How do you think they will do?
I try my best to watch all of the Arsenal games, this season has gone really well and they’ll be successful in the Champions League.
Q – You joined Crewe on loan in July last year. How did you find settling in with a new team and new surroundings?
When I first moved to Crewe it was quite difficult because I was leaving home for the first time to live alone. Luckily, I was only one train journey away from home but it was still a new learning experience for me. My first few games weren’t the best, but the club gave me a lot of trust, which is important for a young player. They had belief in me which gave me confidence.
Q – On 30 July 2022, you made your professional debut. What can you remember from that day?
I arrived at Crewe on the Friday evening and the game was the next day. The first choice goalkeeper has broken his finger earlier in the day so I wasn’t meant to play that game. They wanted to give me time to settle in and get used to the new environment. Because of the injury, I was thrown in at the deep end, but I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity. We won the match against Rochdale, so it was a good first game!
Q – After a successful four month spell at Crewe, you were recalled from your loan by Arsenal. How do you feel that the Crewe coaching staff helped your development?
The coaching staff trusted me and Fred Barber (goalkeeping coach) had a huge influence. He made me a much tougher goalkeeper, his training sessions were really difficult and he worked on my technical ability a lot.
Q – For the second half of this campaign you have been loaned to Sturm Graz in Austria. How did the move come about and how did you make the decision?
The move was quite unexpected. I had some interest from League 1 clubs and I wanted to make sure that I kept playing. My agent spoke to me about the potential move to Graz and it all happened very quickly. I thought it was a good move to get top flight football and Sturm Graz wanted me as their number one.
Q – Congratulations on winning the Austrian Cup last month. What are the key factors that have led to the team’s success?
Salzburg have dominated for the last five years, but there is a lot of passion and fight in our team. We’re still very close to them in the league. There’s five games left so if we work really hard, we could win the league. Our fans are extremely passionate, they always push the team and give us confidence. We played three difficult teams to win this cup – Rapid Vienna, Salzburg and LASK.
Q – How do you find living in Austria and have you learnt much German?
It’s been good, Graz is a really nice city. It’s quiet and the people are easy going. The club have provided German lessons, my German is okay but I’m not fluent. I know numbers and certain phrases for on the pitch.
Q – Graz looks like a beautiful city. Which tourist attractions would you recommend?
I would say Schlossberg clock tower. There’s really good views of the city from there and you can take a lift to the top and have a coffee.
Q – Austria is famous for their weiner schnitzel, do you have a favourite Austrian dish?
Easy question! It’s called Kaiserschmarrn, it’s similar to pancakes. I can’t eat it all the time, but occasionally we have it as a pre-match meal.
Q – Away from the pitch, what do you like to do to relax?
I like to hang out with my teammates and go for lunch. I like watching ice hockey which is popular here. At the moment on TV, I’m watching Power.