SAMUEL CHUKWUEZE'S footballing career has panned out far from what was expected since the days in his hometown of Ikwuano in Nigeria.
From his parents doing all they can to prevent him from pursuing the sport to being on the verge of joining his international team-mate at Arsenal, the 19-year-old is certainly making the most of his opportunity in Spain.
8 Chukwueze's performances in the yellow of Villarreal has seen a number of Europe's elite register interest in the youngster
Quickly becoming a fan favourite at Villarreal, the wing sensation was in fine form against Barcelona, scoring one and setting up another in the 4-4 draw – a fixture where the Yellow Submarine had led by two goals up until the 89th minute.
Having only made his first-team debut for the Spanish outfit in September 2018, he has racked up 29 appearances in all competitions with a Europa League title still on offer.
That helped him to claim Nigeria’s Young Player of the Year award, ahead of Everton’s Henry Onyekuru and Wolfsburg forward Victor Osimhen
And his breakout campaign has also earned him plenty of suitors, not least the team that he had all-but signed on the dotted line for in 2015 – Arsenal.
WORLD CUP WINNER
Chukwueze had just won the Under-17 World Cup with Nigeria in Chile, scoring three times on his way to collecting the Bronze Boot for third top scorer.
At the same tournament, other future stars on show included soon-to-be Chelsea star Christian Pulisic, Eder Militao – who will join Real Madrid in the summer – and Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Closer to Chukwueze though was Kelechi Nwakali, captain of the young Super Eagles and Golden Ball winner for best player.
Arsenal did not take long to snap the skipper up for £2.5million from Diamond Football Academy in Nigeria less than a year after the World Cup triumph.
The Gunners had also hoped to sign Chukwueze from the same youth set-up, with the winger going as far as to confirm their interest.
EPA8 Chukwueze has quickly integrated into the Villarreal, having only made his senior debut for the club earlier this season
Getty – Contributor8 Chukwueze was expected to join Arsenal at the same time as Kelechi Nwakali, but his former U-17s international captain has struggled at the Gunners
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But in an interview with Nigerian news outlet The Cable in 2016, he claimed that the move failed, not because of the transfer fee, but due to contract clauses that Arsenal wanted to insert.
The DFA were unhappy with the North Londoners’ insistence to only hand them a portion of Chukwueze’s sell-on fee once another club had paid at least £20million.
The move fell through, as did interest from Portuguese giants Porto, before the Nigerian ace eventually left for Europe and headed to Villarreal in 2017.
Having already been likened to Bayern Munich and Holland icon Arjen Robben for his direct attacking style, big things were expected.
BURNING HIS BOOTS
But his move to Europe would never have happened if his parents had their way.
From the age of five in the Abia State in southeast Nigeria, Chukwueze’s dream was to become a professional footballer, playing when he could and joined local football teams to train.
Yet, his parents did not share his passion, believing their young son should focus his efforts on his studies and not kicking a ball around.
Upon realising it would be difficult to curb their child’s desire for the game, they stretched to more drastic methods to prevent him playing.
Chukwueze’s mother and father would forbid him to attend training and even burned his football boots.
But the young star, like on many Spanish and European pitches nowadays, could not be stopped and eventually earned their seal of approval in 2013.
Getty – Contributor8 Chukwueze was integral to Nigeria Under-17's World Cup glory in 2015, netting three goals on the way to the bronze boot
EPA8 Chukwueze has often been compared with Bayern Munich's ex-Chelsea star Arjen Robben due to his direct dribbling and determination
8 Chukwueze admitted that his parents had burned his football boots when he was a child so he would focus on his studies and not football
And he is now proving to his parents and the world that he is destined for great things, after earning recognition in his homeland and being named on Uefa’s 50 for the future for 2019.
Also on that list is Arsenal duo Emile Smith-Rowe and Reiss Nelson, along with England ace Jadon Sancho, Real Madrid starlet Vinicius Junior, Gunners target Nicolo Barella, and Chelsea pair Ethan Ampadu and Callum Hudson-Odoi.
Uefa’s summary of Chukwueze even harked back to the star he first idolised, claiming the Nigerian has “Arjen Robben-like tenacity” and is “skilful and aggressive.”
And with Villarreal suffering in La Liga, with relegation still a possibility, it could leave the 19-year-old little option but to move on in the summer.
His performances in the Europa League – where they face local rivals Valencia in the quarter-finals – and recently against Barcelona, leading the fight back at the Estadio de la Cermica, has alerted several elite clubs.
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In light of this, the Nigerian’s side has upped his release clause from 40million euros to 63m euros (£34.5m to £54.3m).
Arsenal will have to fork out if they are to finally sign the player they thought they had acquired three years ago, with Atletico Madrid, Bayern Munich and Leicester City also interested.
But the Gunners will feel they should have accepted DFA’s demands for Chukwueze, all the while waiting to see if his compatriot Nwakali still has what it takes to become a senior figure at the club, having only been a bit-part player on loan at Porto’s B team this season.
8 While Chukwueze's mother did not believe in her son to start with, she and the winger's father gave him their blessing in 2013
8 Chukwueze's mum met then-Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger just a year after the Gunners were supposed to sign her son