Nigeria must not sleep on tantalizing Samuel Chukwueze talent

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A drop down to under-20 level would effectively rule Nigeria's brightest youngster out of potential stardom at the Africa Cup of Nations

There is often a sense of invincibility – nay, immortality – that comes with youth, and that can lead to a certain flippancy in evaluating alternatives.

In those situations, it becomes necessary to save such a one from himself. It is precisely that intervention that is needed in order to prevent Samuel Chukwueze from passing up a great opportunity.

For young Chukwueze, it has been quite the introduction to the big time this season.

His performances for Villarreal in La Liga and the Europa League have made many sit up and take notice, and catapulted him into the reckoning for Nigeria’s senior national team. Just shy of 20, he has also represented the country at two other age group levels: under-17 and under-23.

However, his desire to be a part of the team to the upcoming Fifa Under-20 World Cup in Poland is proving problematic, and would, in the grand scheme, be extremely short-sighted.

Samuel Chukwueze - Nigeria vs. Uganda

In February, the under-20 national team secured a ticket to the World Cup, but did so in quite disappointing circumstances, finishing fourth at the Under-20 Africa Cup of Nations in Niger.

Since then, there has ensued a sort of madcap drive for eligible players to beef up the squad, almost with no coherence or consideration. That desperation has now roped in Chukwueze, who has welcomed the interest with a view to being a part of history.

According to AOIFootball, the Villarreal starlet is itching to help Nigeria win a first-ever World Cup at under-20 level, stating when asked if he would honour the invitation, “I’m always happy to play for the country at any level whenever I’m called upon.”

It is an admirable sentiment, but part of being a professional footballer is learning to pick your battles. It is also understanding that, even when it does not feel that way, your body has limits that you cannot afford not to acknowledge.

Already, there are reports that Villarreal will push against his involvement, but beyond even that, there is the consideration of just how it affects his chances of being a part of this summer’s Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt.

Samuel Chukwueze - Nigeria vs. Uganda

Nigeria may have never won the Under-20 World Cup, but there have been deep runs in the competition (a most recent final appearance in 2005 remains quite memorable), and so it is not beyond the realm of possibility that the Flying Eagles – as the under-20 team is known – are involved in the competition into the latter stages.

Were that to happen, it would effectively rule Chukwueze out of the preparation for the Afcon itself, seeing as the Under-20 World Cup runs until the 15th of June, just six days before the Afcon is set to kick off.

As such, it is, for all intents and purposes, a zero sum situation: to pick one would be to lay down the other.

Perhaps the player does not see it that way, or lacks the foresight to do so himself. In that case, it behoves Super Eagles coach Gernot Rohr to step in, as a matter of urgency.

Gernot Rohr

It is unclear at this time whether under-20 coach Paul Aigbogun consulted with Rohr before seeking to poach Chukwueze, and how that information was received if he did.

If Rohr acquiesced to the request, that would indicate he has no place for the youngster in his Afcon planning—surely a mistake; if he has not, then there is clearly some sort of breach in communication and in the chain of command.

While the argument has been distilled, in some quarters, to whether or not Chukwkueze would get to start for the Super Eagles anyway, that altogether misses the point. Squads win tournaments, not just the preferred starting 11.

There is no greater platform for a young player to announce himself than as a super-sub saviour in the hour of need at a major tournament: is that not precisely the role that launched the career of acrobatic cult hero Julius Aghahowa back in the day?

No other Nigerian player has scored five or more goals in one of Europe's major leagues this season; now is Chukwueze's moment.

 

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