By : Jerry Okugbe
Villarreal opened their league campaign in a 1-1 draw vs SD Huesca. In the wide right of Villarreal’s four-man midfield was Samuel Chukwueze, who saw the entire duration of the game. It was a decent but not spectacular outing for the youngster.
He kept his place in the starting XI for the next game at home to Eibar. He was more lively this time around, providing the assist for Villarreal’s equaliser in an eventual 2-1 win. He also made 3 key passes and completed 3 dribbles.
The 21-years old winger is into his third season in senior football after he made his debut in late 2018. Since then, he has racked up over 80 appearances for Villareal, having a hand in 21 goals.
It was at the 2015 U17 World Cup that the then teenager made his talents known to the watching world. He along with Victor Osimhen and Kelechi Nwakali all instrumental as the Golden Eaglets clinched Nigeria’s historic fifth U17 World Cup title in Chile.
Chukwueze joined Villarreal in 2017, initially linking with the club’s youth side. His rapid rise through the youth ranks capitulated to his promotion to the first-team in 2018. His debut came in a Europa league group stage tie vs Rangers in September 2018.
More game time ensued as his first senior goal arrived in a 2-2 Copa del Rey draw against Almeria in November. Before the season’s end, he’d broken into the starting XI, grabbing the headlines with his eye-catching displays.
The highlight of his season came in the entertaining 4-4 draw vs Barca where Chukwueze scored one and assisted another for the Yellow Submarine. He ended his maiden campaign with 8 goals and 3 assists in 38 appearances.
International recognition came during the season and he made Nigeria’s squad for the 2019 AFCON. He featured in every game of the tournament for Nigeria as they secured bronze medal. His performance against South Africa in the quarter-finals in which he scored stood out. A star was born.
Chukwueze went from featuring for Villarreal’s B team in the Spanish third tier to being linked with Premier League giants all in the space of 12 months. His stock rose and so did the expectations placed on him. He finished 9th in the 2019 Kopa Trophy. The award recognizing the best U21 players in the world.
“He will go very, very far. I think he will join a top club very quickly. I’m sure they are thinking of him. If not, they’ll soon spot him. He already has the level to play anywhere.” Gernot Rohr, his national team coach told reporters of Bein Sports.
Listed in 50 for the future: UEFA.com’s ones to watch in 2019/20, Chukwueze was unable to replicate his previous season form. The winger found himself in and out of Villarreal’s XI as he struggled for consistency, scoring just 4 goals all season.
“The second season, things have been a little different,” Chukwueze admitted. “I am a young player still growing, and players on the pitch are chosen by the coach, sometimes one does not perform optimally. I am still growing and learning,” he added.
Villareal has had a busy summer transfer window with many new names arriving. Among them is Takefusa Kubo, the highly rated youngster from Real Madrid. Competition for places is heating up.
While Samuel’s raw talent is there to be seen, he is far from the finished article. With hard work and hunger, I have no doubt that he can go on to become it. Now is the time for the player dubbed the “Nigerian Robben” to step up and show what he truly is capable of on a regular basis.