Samuel Chukwueze: The young Nigerian spark who has brightened Villarreal’s darkest season


Finishing fifth last season and in a Europa League spot, Villarreal’s recent fall from grace could not have been foreseen by even the most sceptical of fan. Currently embroiled in a relegation dogfight, the Yellow Submarine have sunk fast. Yet, in a form of a 19-year old Nigerian, the Spanish outfit have come out of the 2018/2019 season with something to be proud of.

Born in Umuahia, southern Nigeria, Samuel Chukwueze began playing football at the age of eight, inspired by his countryman Jay-Jay Okocha, who at the time was plying his trade with Bolton in the Premier League. The freedom the man played with, the ability to try new things and the willingness to take risks in hope of the extra-ordinary was something that made Okocha the little boy’s idol.

However, the fascination that had been developed in the young boy was not the same view shared with his parents. Recognising that their son was now obsessed with football, they went to extreme lengths to ensure he concentrated on his studies instead. His mother and father would forbid him to attend training at any hometown side and even burned his football boots to stop him going out to play on the street.

The opportunity to explore the game he loved, the same game he had grown infatuated by through his idol, was suddenly in danger of being taken away.

But with a passion so profound and innate within, his parents could not curb his desire. Eventually earning their seal of approval, he joined local side New Generation Academy. After fighting on numerous fronts just to have the chance to play the “beautiful game”, the winger was determined to adopt the same attitude and love of the game as his hero, Jay-Jay Okocha.

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At just 16 years of age, the Super Eagles star was courted by many of Europe’s top clubs – Image: ESPN

Samuel Chukwueze had now built a resistance and a determination that could not be stopped; with a natural talent that was undeniable and the confidence to try the most daring, the now young man began gathering admirers from all over Europe.

At 16 years of age, Arsenal made their interest concrete. After helping Nigeria win the U17 World Cup, the teenager agreed a deal to move to the Emirates. However, an error in the work permit meant the deal collapsed. Just a year later, it was Villarreal who took the gamble, paying a reported £430,000 fee and was initially assigned to play for the Yellow Submarine’s reserves.

As soon as he stepped foot onto the Spanish shores, a feeling began to grow that Villarreal had discovered something rather special. Scoring his first goal in May, a month after joining, Chukwueze’s transition into one of the most demanding league’s in the world was seamless.

There was a young man who had to cope with a change of continents, a change of lifestyle and a whole new level of football compared to the Nigerian streets he had once known. Yet, the adaptation was like a duck taking to water; flawless in his approach to Spanish life.

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Chukwueze made just 13 appearances for the B side before being promoted to the seniors – Image: Soccer Assembly

Presently in his first full season with the team, Samuel Chukwueze has once again embarked on a new experience. In what has been a rather dismal season for Villarreal, the 19-year-old has been one of the few that has stood up and willing to be counted. Mainly utilised as a right winger, cutting inside on his favoured left foot, Chukwueze has played a part in 16 per cent of the club’s goals. With ten goals to his name and viewed by many supporters as their player of the season, the evidence suggests there is more than enough substance to his electric style.

The 4-4 draw at home to Barcelona in April was well and truly Samuel Chukwueze’s coming out party. The performance against the La Liga champions could only be described as spell-bounding in the Spanish media. The confirmation that the promise, the potential was real.

Scoring in the match, hitting the woodwork twice and putting in a display that epitomised the talent he possesses, Chukwueze ripped through the Barcelona defence at will.  In a 90 minute show, all the traits of the player came to prominence. The raw pace, the directness and the fearless approach left observers convinced. Top defenders in Clement Lenglet and Gerard Pique were given a torrid time. In every one on one, the panic was there for all to see; he beat them on the inside, terrorised them on the outside and also had the presence of mind to cut them open with defence splitting passes.

Good old fashioned wing-play was rediscovered that night; the throwback of a direct winger beating a defender for pace and delivering an inch perfect cross captivated an audience. Walking out of the El Madrigal, supporters knew that a gem was being unearthed right in front of their very eyes.

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The Villarreal winger put in a man of the match display against Barcelona – Image: Complete Sports

Involved in a fight for La Liga survival, the 19-year-old is learning to swim against the tide. Although bigger challenges will arrive in his fledgling career, the see-saw like experience the capped international has had in his breakout season will stand him in good stead for the rest of his career.

In a recent interview praising him on his performances since arriving at Villarreal, Chukwueze simply replied: “I haven’t arrived yet”.  With the determination, humble nature shown and challenges that have had to be overcome just for him to live out childhood dream, who would bet against Samuel Chukwueze, the boy from Nigeria, becoming a footballing superstar.


About Author

Football, Boxing and Cricket correspondent from Hampshire, covering southern sport. Editor and Head of Boxing at Prost International. Accreditated EFL & EPL journalist.

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