20 year old Nigerian, Samuel Chukwueze, is heralded as the next superstar to come out of his country. We find out what’s so special about this Villarreal prodigy that made Europe’s top clubs stand up and take notice.
The Yellow Submarine have underwhelmed. Villarreal is sinking deep into the mud of a grim relegation battle. It’s an unusual sight at Estadio de la Cerámica, considering merely a decade ago they almost clinched La Liga. Two games separated Champions League glory.
European football is mere fantasy these days. Survival is paramount. Amidst the hardship, Chukwueze is a silver lining.
The Nigerian twisted heads last season in Castellon. Javier Calleja’s men were thrashed 5-1 over both legs. Chukwueze, though, was the sole bright spot in the last eight. He racked up a combined 18 shots and dribbles – the most by any player in the competition.
Chukwueze was picked five times in Europe, contributing a goal and assist. In 19 La Liga appearances, the Nigerian plundered five goals, including a fine finish against Barcelona and the winner at Girona. He unselfishly teed two for his teammate.
Chukwueze had to fight back from a near career mishap to get to this stage. After winning the Bronze Ball - on the strength of three goals and three assists - and helping Nigeria win a fifth U-17 world title, football agency Stellar Group signed Chukwueze and three other players from the Nigerian squad. The deal ought to have seen the highly sought-after star, who models his game on Arjen Robben, sign for a top European club, as those before him had done.
It wasn’t the case, however. He returned home patiently waiting for news from his agents about a potential career move and kept busy by shuttling between training and playing for Diamond Academy and the Nigeria U-20s, who were involved in the qualification for the ill-fated 2017 U-20 Africa Cup of Nations.
He seemed poised to join Arsenal after celebrating his 17th birthday. However, Diamond Academy pulled the plug on the deal at the last minute, and Chukwueze began to slip out of the limelight. When Villarreal stormed Nigeria in 2017, he obliged.
Chukwueze began with the U-18 side, before promotion to the B team. His superb football knowledge meant it was only a matter of time before the first team doors opened. Just 13 appearances and two broke the fastener.
Although sparingly featured, Chukwueze plundered his first senior goal in May 2018 in a 3–1 away defeat of Bilbao Athletic. He contributed another in 11 appearances during his first season, as his side missed out promotion in the playoffs.
This season, the Nigerian established himself a regular. Chukwueze made his first-team debut in September, replacing Nicola Sansone in a 2–2 home draw against Rangers. He waited another two months for his full league debut.
Anything special about the lad?
Although lacking the defensive strength, Chukwueze produces that odd slippery turn and plays with coltish, slightly clumsy vigour. Yes, he is quick, skilful and able to go past players - with a predatory eye for goal.
The teenager’s direct running, trickery and willingness to shoot with his favoured left foot have caught the eye and earned comparisons with Robben. Similarly unafraid to assume responsibility, Chukwueze relies on his speed and quick feet to make something happen.
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