Few young international players have made such an immediate impact in LaLiga in recent years as Villarreal’s Samuel Chukwueze, with the 19-year-old Nigeria international already looking key to his club’s chances of success this season.
Ikwuano-born Chukwueze came a long way very fast following his LaLiga debut against Levante in early November, having scored his first senior goal for the club in a Copa del Rey tie against Almeria a few days previously.
A first LaLiga goal arrived on November 11, when he drove into the area and dribbled past two defenders before firing low through the legs of Rayo Vallecano goalkeeper Stole Dimitrievski.
A second league strike came the following weekend, when Chukwueze received a back-heel from team-mate Santi Cazorla and showed composure and technique to fire the ball low into the bottom corner for the winning goal against Real Betis at the Estadio de la Ceramica.
The huge moments kept coming, with the teenager completing the 90 minutes in a narrow defeat at Barcelona’s Camp Nou and hitting his first Europa League goal in a 2-0 victory against Spartak Moscow to confirm Villarreal’s progress as group winners to the last 32.
All that seemed a long way away when Chukwueze was born on May 22, 1999 in Abia State, Nigeria. He began playing football aged just five and, although his parents originally wanted him to concentrate on his studies, his natural talent and dedication soon shone through.
While honing his skills at the famed Diamond Football Academy, Chukwueze came to international attention with his thrilling performances as Nigeria won the 2015 Under-17 World Cup. Three goals in the competition, including a strike after just 25 seconds in a 5-1 win against hosts Chile, secured him the competition’s Bronze Boot prize.
After joining Villarreal’s youth system in 2017, he quickly settled and was first promoted to the C team before rising into the B reserve side playing in Spain’s third tier. Having impressed his coaches in training with the senior side, a first-team chance soon arrived and was taken with both hands.
A fast, direct winger who likes to cut inside and shoot, Chukwueze has been compared to Bayern Munich star Arjen Robben, while current Nigeria international Ikechukwu Uche, who played for Villarreal between 2011 and 2015, is a close follower of his compatriot’s career.
His immediate impact in LaLiga has raised hopes that Chukwueze could emulate another Nigerian, Christopher Ohen. The former Real Madrid youth teamer scored 48 goals in 117 top-flight games for SD Compostela in the 1990s, making him the third-highest African scorer in LaLiga history.Already a senior international with his country, following a debut in a 0-0 draw with Uganda last November, Chukwueze is currently focusing on maintaining his fast start with Villarreal. In what has been a difficult 2018-19 season so far for the Yellow Submarine, their emerging Nigerian prospect is a rising star to keep their spirits high.