In 2019, organisers of the Ballon d’Or released a ten-man list for the Kopa Trophy awards, and one of the names on the list was Nigeria’s Samuel Chukwueze.
The Kopa Trophy is an award created by France Football in 2018 for players under the age of 21. 2019 saw Chukwueze nominated alongside the likes of Matthijs de Ligt, Jadon Sancho, Joao Felix and Kai Havertz.
Chukwueze’s nomination came after a brilliant 2018/2019 campaign with Villarreal, which was coincidentally his first season with the Yellow Submarines.
The Nigerian international made his debut for Villarreal in a Europa League encounter against Rangers, but it was his performances against Real Madrid and Barcelona that brought him to the spotlight.
Chukwueze made 38 appearances in his debut season with Villarreal’s first team, scoring eight goals and registering three assists.
Villarreal also decided to tie down their gem to a new contract with a release clause of 100m euros. It was hoped that Chukwueze would take the momentum into his second year at the club, but he was inconsistent throughout last season, managing just four goals and six assists.
The inconsistency was not an issue, though, as it is usual with young players—still, a lot of expected from him this season- which is third at the club.
However, 17 league games into the season, the Nigerian is worse off than his debut season and appears to be regressing.
Some of the flaws that blighted his game when he made his debut are still there, and it does not look like he has learnt anything.
Although he is currently injured, Chukwueze’s performances this season have been below average. Ahead of the season, Villarreal signed Takefusa Kubo on loan from Real Madrid, and his arrival was supposed to challenge the Nigerian.
But that has not been the case- even though the Japanese himself failed to settle down at Estadio La Ceramica and has since returned to Real Madrid, who loaned him out to Getafe.
Chukwueze has made 17 appearances for the Yellow Submarines this season, but he has started only six. The Nigerian international started the first three games but dropped to the bench in subsequent matches due to unconvincing performances.
The 22-year-old’s lack of end product has always been an issue and this season is no different with just one goal in 17 league games.
His decision-making has also come under heavy criticism, and it is rightly justified as he has just one assist in the Spanish top-flight.
Not only that, but his general play has also not been up to quality this season. His dribbling, which happens to be his strength, has been average with just 53% dribble success.
The former Golden Eaglets captain has created just one big chance this season while he has a 79% pass accuracy.
These stats are not good enough for a player hoping to take his game to the next level. Villarreal manager, Unai Emery, spoke about the inconsistency in Chukwueze’s game recently.
“We need Samu to settle after two years of irregularity in the first team. We need him to make the difference, and this year he’s doing it to a lesser extent [than before].
“I opted for him at Anoeta [against Real Sociedad] with the idea that he’d win us the game, but it wasn’t to be. We’ll continue to work with him on it.
While it is only right for Emery to continue to find a way to get the best out of him, Chukwueze also needs to take responsibility and not just on the pitch.
He has to do away with all kinds of distractions off the pitch. Recently, he showed off a new hairstyle, which could fool someone not familiar with football that he is auditioning for a role in Legally Blonde three.
It is time for the 22-year-old to focus more on his game and less on his hairstyle. The Super Eagles winger appears to have relaxed on his promising start, and that’s not the right attitude to have.
It was a view former Super Eagles and Real Sociedad star, Mutiu Adepoju, hinted in his interview with Soccernet last week.
“I believe in football, as we are growing, there must be consistency, and there must be hard work. You cannot just work one season and think that everything has been done, and then you relaxed, Adepoju said.
The talent is there, but Chukwueze now needs to match that talent with hard work or else he is in danger of being left behind.