Villarreal’s Samuel Chukwueze has joined a select group of players to have been handed a maiden international call-up before making their senior league debut after being included in Gernot Rohr’s Nigeria squad for the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against South Africa.
The 19-year-old has, however, featured for the Yellow Submarine in the Europa League, and marked his third appearance in the competition with an assist against Rapid Vienna last month.
Gernot Rohr is clearly impressed with what he’s seen from the immensely talented left winger.
“Chukwueze has a good left foot, is quick, has a low centre of gravity – which gives him a very good balance – and can deliver and score,” the German coach told KweséESPN.
While the youngster may not feature against Bafana Bafana as the Super Eagles look to get over the line, he may well make his debut when the West African giants host Uganda in an international friendly a few days later.
He’d become the next standout Golden Eaglets performer to make the step up to the senior side.
Title-winning teammates and individual award winners from the 2015 FIFA U-17 World Cup squad, Victor Osimhen and Kelechi Nwakali beat Chukwueze to making their international bow, with the former returning to the senior fold ahead of the Bafana game.
Chukwueze has had to fight back from a near career mishap to get to this stage.
Days 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.
Perhaps the only snag that hindered a potential move abroad then was his age, as the attacker was 16, and would have to wait for two years before he could sign professional terms.
The teenager returned home while awaiting 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.
After celebrating his 17th birthday, he seemed poised to join Arsenal, alongside Nwakali, who signed a five-year contract with the Gunners.
Kelechi Nwakali has been playing for Porto B on loan, a choice that had many in Nigeria scratching their heads.
However, Diamond Academy pulled the plug on the deal at the last minute, and Chukwueze began to slip out of limelight, a situation made more challenging by his Golden Eaglets teammates of lesser profiles securing moves to Europe.
Undeterred by those series of disappointments, Chukwueze eventually packed his bags and journeyed to Spain, first joining Villarreal’s U-18 team, before being promoted to the B team.
His superb performances with the Villarreal juniors have seen him regularly grab the headlines with his stunning pace, strength, skillset, goals and assists, and he’s edging closer to Javier Calleja’s first-team.
Chukwueze’s emergence should come as positive news to Nigerian fans, with the national side lacking a naturally left-footed winger since the untimely retirement of Emmanuel Amuneke, who coached the wonderkid in the Eagles’ U-17 and U-20 teams.
Despite his relative inexperience, Rohr has identified the starlet’s raw talent and has handed him an audition in a team which, for all its outstanding attacking players, lacks a natural left winger to create panic and havoc on opposition defences with direct running, effective crossing and superb technique.
Considering the number of quality and experienced competitors ahead of Chukwueze in the Super Eagles squad, he must realise that he’s way down the pecking order.
However, the U-20 World Cup in Poland next year could present him with a valuable opportunity to assert himself.
With the senior side, he’s clearly earned Rohr’s attention, and his profile makes him a compelling prospect. Over to you, Samuel…!