The national football team of Nigeria has some very exciting attacking talent in Josh Maja, Victor Osimhen and Samuel Chukwueze, among others. They all had breakthrough seasons recently, and moves to Europe’s elite clubs might very well be on the horizon.
Josh Maja caught the public eye in Netflix-series Sunderland ‘Til I Die, while Victor Osimhen is one of the most entertaining players to watch in the French Ligue 1. Scouted Football wrote excellent analyses about both of them;
their piece about how Josh Maja is getting on was free to read. Samuel Chukwueze definitely deserves to be included in the conversation when it comes to Nigeria’s next generation, as there is some immense potential there.
The young dribbler debuted in 2018 for Villarreal in the Spanish La Liga, contributing 5 goals and 2 assists in 1,706 minutes. His 1.6 shots and 3.11 successful dribbles per 90 minutes that season are decent, and it demonstrates his confidence in his attacking abilities despite being just 19 years old.
His dribbling numbers were similar to other proficient La Liga dribblers that season like Giovani Lo Celso or Ángel Correa. The 2019-2020 campaign hasn’t been quite as remarkable, output-wise, but there are plenty of indicators that Villarreal have a real gem on their hands.
Exciting talisman for Villarreal and Nigeria
It never was set in stone that Villarreal would be the European destination for Chukwueze, as Paris Saint-Germain, Arsenal and Porto, among others, had an eye on him as well. Arsenal came very close to signing him, before the deal supposedly fell through as they couldn’t come to an agreement with the Diamond Football Academy regarding the transfer fee.
Villarreal came in and coughed up €500,000 to seal the deal. The progress Chukwueze showed during his time in Spain has seen his market valuation exceed the initial fee many times over, arguably making this transfer a financial success already.
Chukwueze was part of the Nigeria national team that came in third during the Africa Cup of Nations 2019 in Egypt, following up on his debut season in La Liga. Chukwueze managed to leave a positive impression, despite the conservative tactics employed by manager Gernot Rohr (placing second in a group with Madagascar, Guinea and Burundi, and scoring only two goals is not very remarkable considering the talent available).
Most noteworthy is his quarterfinal goal against South-Africa to help Nigeria into the semis. All in all, the 2018-2019 season was an exceptional one for Samuel Chukwueze, earning him a spot in the UEFA.com’s Ones To Watch list for 2019-2020. What exactly makes him so good?
Dribble. Cut inside. Shoot. Repeat.
Samuel Chukwueze is often compared to Arjen Robben, who was his idol when he grew up, and it’s not hard to see why. The Dutch former international was renowned to dribble down the right wing, cut inside and curl the ball towards goal. Multiple times every game, almost unstoppable every time.
Chukwueze is well on his way to become very lethal in doing the same thing as well. Their style of dribbling seems very similar as well, running at opponents with lots of light touches of the ball to quickly change direction (to eventually probably still cut inside though).
Samuel Chukwueze‘s heatmaps of both the 2018-2019 and the 2019-2020 season show his position as an inverted right winger, where most of his touches in the final third happen around the corner of the oppositions box. Naturally, this is where a lot of Chukwueze’s shots come from as well, as is visible in about every highlight video about Samuel Chukwueze.
It seems obvious Chukwueze’s best skill is his dribbling: his 1.7 successful dribbles per 90 minutes is among the best in La Liga. Other strong areas are his acceleration and speed, his confidence to take on defenders and look for one-on-one opportunities, while always trusting his technique to get the ball to do what he wants. His ball control seems clunky at times, but he often manages to leave small spaces with the ball still at his feet.
Chukwueze’s defensive numbers are quite impressive as well. A very important part (almost) any attack minded player needs to incorporate into their game to survive any elite European league. In the 2019-2020 season Chukwueze attempted 14 tackles, of which 12 were successful. He applied pressure on the ball 244 times, which resulted in possession for Villarreal in 31.1% of the time.
Obviously, there are weak sides to his game as well. While his tendency to cut in to his left foot can be very dangerous, it can become predictable pretty fast. This doesn’t need to be a downside, but with defenses catching up to what Chukwueze is about it wouldn’t hurt to mix things up every now and then.
Another point of improvement would be to become more consistent. This is hardly a critique aimed at Chukwueze himself, as it’s very common young players struggle to maintain their form throughout an extended period of time. As seasons statistics showed earlier, Chukwueze’s form in the 2018-2019 season well outperformed his numbers in the latest campaign. Consistency is an important trait the best players possess, and Chukwueze needs to find a way to get the best out of himself week in week out, to be ready for a next step.
Until then, Villarreal have a unique player on their hands. Samuel Chukwueze looks dangerous and lively both on and off the ball, his underlying statistics look very promising and his ability to cut inside to his blistering left foot is a threat many elite clubs can appreciate.
Nigeria seem destined to dominate African international football with a whirlwind of attacking potential in Victor Osimhen, Henry Onyekuru, Josh Maja and Samuel Kalu, while there is talent aplenty further down the pitch in Wilfed Ndidi, Kelechi Nwakali, Joe Aribo and Ola Aina as well. Samuel Chukwueze, being voted Nigerian Young Player of the Year over his peers, could play a crucial part in restoring Nigeria as the African powerhouse it once was.
The future for Samuel Chukwueze
Chukwueze would probably benefit staying with Villarreal a little longer, as he is yet to become a regular starter for them. He started 13 games from a possible 27; a full season of playtime would surely benefit him and give him the opportunity to put in consistent performances over an extended period of time.
Meanwhile, Nigeria were leading their qualification group for the 2021 Africa Cup, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. They will most likely qualify and this tournament seems to be a perfect opportunity for Chukwueze to really leave his mark on a global football stage.
Several clubs have been linked to the explosive winger and they surely would want to secure themselves of his services before his star rises too wide. Chukwueze has been heavily linked to Liverpool, as reported by France Football. It’s entirely possible his name is being chanted in Premier League stadiums sooner rather than later.