It has already proven to be a big season for 21-year-old Bordeaux winger Samuel Kalu, who has earned himself regular minutes at the Ligue 1 club while carving out a place in the Nigeria national side.
He was handed his international debut against the Seychelles at the beginning of September, in which he grabbed an assist, and now promises more.
With an African Nations Cup qualifying double-header against Libya looming, Gernot Rohr has rewarded the youngster for his promising start to the season in Ligue 1 with what is becoming a regular berth in a the squad looking to rebuild after the World Cup.
For Kalu, his debut represents a highlight of a career that has already taken him far and wide. His journey into the professional game started at the Golden Boot Academy, before taking him to France via short spells in Slovakia with Trencin and in Belgium with Gent.
“I adapt wherever I go,” Kalu has previously admitted – and his success to date suggests that is indeed the case.
By the time Bordeaux swooped for him in the summer for a reported fee of €8 million, he had made fewer than 50 top-flight appearances with Gent but had impressed sufficiently in order for the Ligue 1 side to line him up as a replacement for the talismanic Malcom, who moved to Barcelona in the summer after exploding in France.
“I’m happy that he’s signed for Bordeaux,” Rohr, who turned out for the French club during his playing career in the 1980s, said in August. “I think he’ll give them penetration on the flanks because he likes to play in space. Against teams who like to defend deep, players like Kalu can help find solutions.”
His statistics in the 2017-18 season were formidable, having netted six goals and offered a further seven assists in only 24 league outings.
“He has an interesting profile, with speed and technical qualities,” Bordeaux president Stephane Martin told the press, indicating the chief reasons why the player he had been signed.
The hope from both the club and the player is that he can replicate the spectacular success that Malcom enjoyed over the duration of a deal at Stade Matmut-Atlantique that will last five years.
“Ligue 1 is another step,” the player, given the No.10 shirt, admitted when he signed with the club.
He arrived on August 6 as Bordeaux’s first signing of the summer and in seven subsequent Ligue 1 appearances has mustered one goal and one assist.
Despite relatively modest numbers, club coach Eric Bedouet has praised the importance of a player Nigeria hope can become a replacement for Victor Moses, who announced his international retirement a matter of weeks ago.
“For a centre forward, wingers like Kalu and Francois Kamano are precious,” Bedouet said. “Kalu’s crossing is very, very good. They both possess great physical qualities and have a little of the same style: they’re very quick, direct, powerful and physically-strong.
“Look at the build of Kalu – he’s capable of stopping with the ball then accelerating again, making the difference in a game all in one action.”
The pair have often worked in conjunction this season and have been one of Bordeaux’s major strengths as they have powered into the top half of the standings.
Kamano, 22 and now into his fifth season as a professional, has hogged the headlines after netting seven times already, but Bedouet, who takes matchday responsibilities for the club, is well aware of the value of the duo’s powers.
“Both of them together, it’s quite annoying for opponents,” Bedouet added last week. “They have to continue these performances for the duration.”
Indeed, Bordeaux have leaned heavily on the pair and will continue to do so in the weeks ahead as domestic and Europa League commitments mount.
For Kalu, it has been a whirlwind beginning to the season, but for a young man fast tracked through Slovakian and Belgium football, it is a feeling that is not unfamiliar. Progress in his career has been unrelenting, and despite a left-field route to Bordeaux, he will expect it to continue all the way to the top.