Glenn Hoddle, the coach who helped resurrect the career of Ikechi Anya, feels the Scotland international is being used as a square peg in a round hole when he is named at left-back.
Anya was surprisingly named on the left-hand side of the back four against Manchester United on Saturday for the first time since the home defeat to Crystal Palace on September 26. Quique Sanchez Flores felt Nathan Ake, who had started the last five Premier League matches, was feeling the effects of two games for the Dutch U21 side during the international break, including one on Tuesday against Slovakia where the defence were given the run around in a second half that saw the young Oranjes concede four times.
The head coach was clearly unhappy with how things were going as he made only his third half-time substitution of the season, sacrificing Jose Manuel Jurado, restoring Ake to left-back and moving Anya to the right-hand side of midfield. It was a move Hoddle, the former England coach who had Anya at his academy in Spain, agreed with.
“He’s trying to do a job there and he’s not a left-back, we know that,” Hoddle said in commentary on BT Sport. “He’s better using his pace [on the right].”
Anya became the first player to leave the academy in Jerez, Spain after Sevilla Atletico offered him a contract following a friendly game in the summer of 2010 where Hoddle says “he tore them apart”. Anya is grateful for the lifeline Hoddle’s setup offered him for nine months.
“[He helped me] mentally more than technically,” Anya told BBC Radio 5 live. “He obviously helped technically because he’s one of the greatest players to play the game. We played a lot of small-sided games to help you be comfortable on the ball. But what he instilled in me more than anything was a mental toughness. To play at his level you can’t be frail and that was a great lesson I managed to learn while I was there.”
Hoddle was at Vicarage Road on Saturday as part of the BT Sport commentary team to watch Anya in Premier League action for the first time.
“He’s done fantastically well,” said Hoddle. “He’s a lovely lad, full of promise.”
Anya was invited to the academy by John Gorman, Hoddle’s trusted lieutenant who managed Anya at Wycombe.
“There was a lot of development in him,” said Hoddle. “He was such a good hard working lad. We did it [set up the academy] for people like Kechi. A lot of players slip through at 18 or 19 because it’s too early. It just shows you if you are being turned away [by clubs], you are not finished yet. He’s a real intelligent lad.”
Isn’t he just, as he comes from a good stock. His father, Dr Chinasa Anya, is an Oxford University graduate and an academic doctor. His mother, Mariena, is a Romania economist while his elder brother, Chima, is a medical doctor. Graeme Le Saux, also a left-back, was often derided for his appetite for learning and being highly intellectual.
“I would would be more than happy if people knew that about me,” said Anya. “I’m proud my parents are gifted academically and that I can use it to my advantage. I don’t see how being academically bright is anything to be ashamed of.”
Anya is your classic first one out at training and last one in as he seeks to squeeze every drop of talent out of his body and make the most of the chance at this exalted level he has been given.
“Football is my main priority,” he said. “I don’t see my friends much but they all know why that is as they know what I’m trying to achieve here. We might meet up for dinner and they’ve been there during the lowest of lows and I appreciate their support. Everything is geared towards staying in the Premier League and you’ve just got to give it your best shot.”