The 19-year-old Nigerian wonderkid, Samuel Chukwueze has been phenomenal ever since he moved to Villareal from Diamond Football Academy in 2016 at €500,000 (£430,000/$560,000) after falling out from Arsenal interest.
After a move to the Emirates collapsed in 2016, the Gunners now face stiff competition for a 19-year-old who has taken La Liga by storm this season
When Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez scored injury-time goals to save Barcelona from defeat at Villarreal last week, it seemed the headlines were reserved for them.
When Spanish football fans turned over their morning papers, the Barcelona duo dominated, but a certain Samuel Chukwueze also made the news after starring in the exhilarating 4-4 draw.
It was the 19-year-old’s goal and assist that drew the Yellow Submarine level from 2-0 down, and his sublime performance that proved the catalyst for an unlikely point.
“I’m so happy to have scored against Barcelona, they’re one of the best clubs in the world and have great players,” Chukwueze told reporters after the game.
“I want to specially dedicate this goal to my mentor Prince Victor Apugo, who has always been there for me and really helped me, especially when my move to Arsenal didn’t work out.”
His words will have left fans of the Gunners wondering what could have been.
As the January transfer window entered its final few days, Unai Emery highlighted a wide player as a priority, but subsequent signing Denis Suarez has struggled to make an impact.
Had Arsene Wenger and his team been able to agree on a financial package with Nigeria’s Diamond Football Academy for Chukwueze in 2016, things could have been much different.
But instead, it was Villarreal who swooped in a year later, paying just €500,000 (£430,000/$560,000) for the attacker, who picked up both a winners’ medal and the Bronze Boot in Nigeria’s successful 2015 FIFA Under-17 World Cup campaign.
The teenager – who derives from the same area in Nigeria as Bordeaux winger Samuel Kalu and Chelsea loanee Kenneth Omeruo – has certainly had to wait patiently for his chance.
After playing for Future Hope as a junior and then the New Generation Academy, Chukwueze describes his arrival at Diamond FA in 2012 as “where it all began”.
“[They] changed my life, they gave me purpose and the mentality that I could [make] it,” he told DiamondTV.
It was that belief which fuelled Chukwueze’s inspired performances for Nigeria’s Under-17s and kept him going after a move to Arsenal collapsed.
More recently, it has led to his senior debut for the Super Eagles and, just last week, him winning the Nigeria Young Player of the Year award.
“It serves as a motivation to keep working hard for more success,” he said.
It was a reaction that conveyed maturity to perfectly complement the footballing ability which has earned him comparisons to Arjen Robben – a player that, alongside Jay-Jay Okocha, he describes as his “role model”.
Both players’ influence on his game is evident. As well as regularly cutting inside onto his left foot in a Robben-esque manner, he possesses the trickery and pace that Okocha used to make a mockery of defenders.
With the ability to use his right foot more than competently too, Chukwueze is able to operate on either wing – as well as through the middle in an attacking midfield role.
His versatility is just another reason for the hype around him, with fellow countryman and former Real Sociedad midfielder Mutiu Adepoju believing “he has everything to succeed”.
“I believe he has the confidence, he is very skilful and he has the technique,” he told Goal. “I just want to advise him to continue to be consistent and continue to learn from each game he plays.”
It certainly appears that Chukwueze is doing exactly that. No teenager has scored more La Liga goals than his four this term – goals which have earned Villarreal a crucial four points over the course of the season.
With further goals in the Europa League and Copa del Rey, Chukwueze is certainly making the most of his opportunities after waiting 12 months for his first-team debut in Spain.
His potential has not gone unnoticed at Estadio de la Cerámica, earning him not only plenty of game time, but a new deal with a release clause that AS report to be worth €63 million (£54m/$71m).
With interest from Arsenal reported to again be rife, it appears the Gunners will have to fork out a sum much greater than the £3m ($3.9m) they almost signed him for three years ago, per the Telegraph.
Moreover, they will face much stiffer competition for his signature this time around.
The 19-year-old’s performances have caught the eyes of many, with him confirming to AOI Football that there is interest from “some top English clubs”.
It seems it will be only a matter of time before Chukwueze becomes Nigeria’s most expensive footballer of all time, surpassing Kelechi Iheanacho and his £25m (€29m/$32.5m) move to Leicester City in 2017.
However, former Villarreal and Nigeria striker Ikechukwu Uche is hoping that record will come further down the line for a player who is still learning his trade.
“Villarreal is a good club, he is being taken care of and he’s surrounded by quality players that will help him grow,” he said. “I’m sure he will do what is right for his career.”
After waiting patiently for both his move to Europe and his first-team chance in Spain, it’s probably fair to presume that Chukwueze can be trusted with his own very bright future.