FALLING out with your mother is hardly the best preparation for your international debut, but for Ikechi Anya it was resulted in sharing the best moment of his career with the woman who has provided his greatest support.
The Watford wing-back’s 30-minute substitute appearance was arguably the brightest aspect of Friday night’s World Cup qualifier against Belgium at Hampden from a Scottish perspective. Anya was immediately taken to the hearts of the Tartan Army as he showed glimpses of the pace, penetration and trickery which tempted Gordon Strachan to call him into his squad.
As much as the Glasgow-born player relished the experience, however, he revealed that the build-up had been wrought with anxiety over his mother Marianne’s determination to travel from her London home to witness her son’s big moment first hand.
“I didn’t want her to come,” said Anya. “She’s elderly and I didn’t want her driving all the way up. It was eight hours and 450 miles. We had big arguments about it. I didn’t want her on the roads.
“But with my godparents from Glasgow, Peter and Lesley, being at the game, she decided to make a weekend of it. I thought she was going to get flights. I was happy with that and that’s why I got her the comps. It was a bit of a family issue, but the bottom line is she got there and enjoyed the night. She has been there for me from day one so it was great to be able to share it with her in the end.
“I got my first cap which I’ve given to Mum. I also kept my shirt – there was no chance of me swapping it, even for Christian Benteke’s. I’m a big fan of his but I don’t think his jersey would fit me! My Scotland shirt is going to be framed.”
Anya is hopeful of earning a second one here in Skopje tomorrow night when the Scots play their final away fixture of their generally dismal 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign against Macedonia.
With Robert Snodgrass suspended, Anya is in contention for a starting appearance as he looks to build on his positive first impression in the dark blue of the country of his birth.
“I really want to establish myself,” added Anya. “That’s my big aim now. But it’s down to the gaffer. Just being here is massive for me. Getting on against Belgium was the bonus I’ve been working hard for. If the gaffer feels I can add to the team then I’m more than happy to do my bit. I just want to work hard and hopefully get more chances.
“It was definitely a bonus for me to get on the pitch on Friday. We had 27 players in the squad, so there were always going to be four of us in the stand. So when I found out I was on the bench I was very happy.
“After half time, the manager told me to stay warm and then after 60 minutes he decided to put me on. It was an unbelievable experience for me. I enjoyed it, apart from the fact we lost 2-0 obviously.
“The gaffer just told me to be positive because he’d liked what I’d done in training. He told me to try and get at their defenders. I felt at times I didn’t have enough of the ball. But when I did get it I did some things good and some things bad. However, all in all I think I’m happy with my debut.
“It was definitely a positive reaction from the supporters and that’s been the case since it was announced I’d be in the squad. I’ve been getting a lot of tweets of support, so I kind of sensed I’d get a good welcome if I came on. Luckily the fans did that for me. I’m so pleased.
“It feels really good. But I don’t get ahead of myself. I feel really grateful for this opportunity and I just want to keep on improving. There’s a few things the gaffer wasn’t happy about due to my wing-back role at Watford and the fact I was playing more midfield. So I need to improve on that. But I’m more than willing to try and improve to get more minutes on the park for Scotland.
“It was difficult for me to adapt to the international system. But I think that’s one of my attributes – I’m a hard worker and I’ll listen to whatever the manager says and try to implement it in training and matches. Slowly, I think I can adapt to the system. When I was on the pitch on Friday, I felt we had the chance to make it 1-1. But unfortunately, with a team like Belgium and their quality, they were always likely to get a second goal.
“I think they’re going to be right up there at the finals in Brazil next year. If they don’t do well in the tournament then they won’t be happy. They are a top side. So 2-0 for us isn’t something to be too disappointed about.
“I definitely think we can still be positive about things even though we lost. After the game the gaffer gave us words of encouragement while also telling us where we went wrong. I think we can be proud of our display.”
Scotland’s sole remaining target now is to avoid finishing bottom of Group A and Anya is confident they can cope with both a Macedonian side on a high after beating Wales 2-1 on Friday and temperatures which are expected to be around 30 degrees. “I’m okay with the hot weather because I was playing in Spanish football not that long ago,” smiled Anya. “So I’m used to it. But we’re all fit lads here and the season’s just got started. We’ve all had pre-season, so I don’t think the weather will be an excuse.
“I think, as much as points, we’re playing for our pride on Tuesday night and that’s just as important. We’re going to go to Macedonia to try to win the game. The gaffer’s going to give us his tactics to adhere to and we’re going to try and get the win.”