Adebayo Akinfenwa is a man in demand these days – and for good reason. The Wycombe Wanderers striker is the centre of attention at the FIFA 19 launch after solidifying his status as the world’s strongest football player by taking the gong for the strongest player in FIFA for the seventh year running. But just like his on-pitch presence, Bayo has always been larger than life outside of football.
Once mocked for thinking he could play professional football at his size, Bayo’s self belief and refusal to believe what others said he couldn’t do has seen him become one of football’s most loved figures. His growing prominence off the pitch has also been mirrored with an on-pitch renaissance too, earning a nomination for ‘Player of the Year’ in League Two after spearheading Wycombe to promotion last season.
Akinfenwa is a man who has always had ideas that go far beyond the game. Despite heading toward the twilight years of his footballing career, he’s making a bigger difference to a new generation of football fans day by day, with his off-field career only just beginning.
We caught up with Bayo at the FIFA 19 launch to talk about how he became a FIFA hero, challenging stereotypes, and his exciting plans for his new mentor scheme in the not-too-distant future.
COMPLEX: You’ve made it seven years in a row as the strongest player in the EA Sports FIFA series - and it’s your first year as a Silver. It must be your biggest year on the game yet?
Akinfenwa: It’s a momentous year for me! My first year being a Silver is huge. When you go from being a Bronze all your life and then you’re Silver, you’re only one step away from Gold… so you know what’s happening next season!
So do you rate yourself as a FIFA player? I’ve seen you get on pretty well this evening…
I don’t rate myself. The people that I beat do. I’m unbeaten! I wanted to give David Myler or Spencer FC a game and beat them too, but they’ll just have to wait their turn.
Have you ever beaten any of the pros?
I actually played Gorilla and beat him 6-1 (laughs) - nah, I don’t want to put any false rumours out there...but I’ve got Gfinity coming up and I’ll be playing there, so we’ll have a conversation and see what happens.
You do a lot of work with EA – what’s it been like working with them down the years?
It’s been really good man. I’ve forged and built up some good relationships here that’ll go beyond the game. I’ll go above and beyond for them as they always have for me, so it’s been really good working with them down the years.
You're a Liverpool fan and that team has got some tasty ratings this year - are you gonna be playing with them more than anyone this year?
They absolutely do. I’ve been beating everyone tonight playing with them, and there’s no one else I’ll be playing with this year – other than Wycombe, obviously.
What have you made of Liverpool’s start to the season?
I've been impressed with Firmino. Bobby is my hitter. He is MY hitter – and he’s finally starting to get the praise he deserves. Long may that continue, and let the speedsters around him keep doing their bits. I’m happy for Sturridge coming back as well, we all know his talent has never been in question, so shout out to all of them man.
On the football pitch, you’re with Wycombe Wanderers, who you’re now in League One with. What’s the step up been like so far?
You know what, it’s a lot quicker. The most noticeable difference is that the teams around you make less mistakes. You get punished more in League One, and it’s actually the longest I’ve gone without scoring at the start of the season.
Are you finding you’re getting better with age? You were nominated for League Two ‘Player of the Season’ last year….
As you get older, you know what you’re good at and you know what you’re not so good at. Your ego comes out of it, and then you realise you can’t play every game, there’ll be certain games where you won’t be so affected…so you’ve just got to concentrate on what you are.
It's about sticking to your strengths – I’m not trying to run away from nobody or do any double stopovers or anything like that, have you seen how big these legs are? Though i’m sure people would love to see it (laughs).
Can you see yourself finishing your career here, or could you see yourself playing abroad?
I’ve got a lot of good things on here at the moment, a lot of projects on outside of football. But at the same time, never say never. Six years ago, I would never have thought I’d have the profile I do now.
When did you first start making that journey down the social media route?
When I was 30 or 31, I realised just how popping it was. Twitter and Instagram were obviously popping, but the timing was right too. I got introduced to KSI and The Sidemen, the new age rock stars right there! And from then it’s just catapulted into what it is today. People have jumped on it now and luckily I’ve been able to become a part of it all.
"Society loves to box you in and pigeonhole you – I'm like 'F*** that!'"
What do you see yourself doing after football? You’d make a very good pundit…
There are talks already about a punditry show. I’d like to be a Marvel character and get in one of those films. But what I always say to people is “don’t put a lid on your life”. Take yourself out of this box that people try and put you in and if you wanna believe it, you can achieve it.
Hence the “Who said I’m 2 big 2 play football” shirts...
Exactly. Society loves to box you in and pigeonhole you, because it’s easier for them to process you. And I’m like “fuck that” - this is real talk man. If you believe it, don’t let their insecurities hold you back. That’s been my mindset from the start. Moving forward, I’ll teach that to my kids.
I do think there’s a place when you’ve given your life to something for so long, it’s good to give back a little bit of knowledge to the next generation. But when you’ve done something for 20 years, it’s good to be able to do things like this and get on FIFA, to showcase a different side to you and express yourself a bit more, as well as utilising the knowledge you’ve built up and educating the next generation.
How is your ‘Just Go For It’ mentoring scheme for young people coming along?
It should be coming out in February or March 2019. It’s something that’s very close to my heart. It’s not even going to be just a football scheme – it’s really just about mindset and mentality. I don’t think the next generation realise how much power and potential they have. It’s about having conversations with them to make them realise what they can achieve. That’s massive for me.
What are your hopes for the rest of the season?
Obviously it’s football first and foremost. But I’ve got this app coming out which I am mad excited about in December. We’ve got the relaunch of Beast Mode clothing coming up soon. I’ve been motivational speaking a lot too...the TED talk is pending! It’s all really, really exciting. Everyday I’m just going to continue defying limitations.
Akinfenwa was speaking at the launch of EA SPORTS FIFA 19 after winning the Strongest Player. EA SPORTS FIFA 19 is OUT NOW on Playstation 4, Xbox One and all other platforms. To get your copy, head to https://www.easports.com/uk/fifa/buy/united-kingdom.