After a spellbinding, breakthrough season last term, the young Nigeria international is struggling with second-season syndrome which has seen him get dropped from Villarreal’s first eleven in recent weeks with his starting spot in the Super Eagles also coming increasingly under threat.
Some fans are beginning to question Gernot Rohr’s decision to hand a guaranteed starting shirt to Samuel Chukwueze despite his club struggles and with the return of team captain Ahmed Musa from injury, that right wing position might be up for grabs soon.
The young Nigeria international and Paderborn fullback Jamilu Collins would have been the scapegoats for fans’ attack had the Super Eagles not secured a comeback win against Benin on Wednesday. Collins, for his slip up that led to the home side conceding in just the second minute after kickoff, and Chukwueze for his inability to have any meaningful impact on the match.
Nigeria equalized in that encounter thanks to a penalty kick won by the excellent Ola Aina and expertly dispatched by Victor Osimhen. And when Gernot Rohr’s side needed inspiration from anyone of its clutch of talented players, it was Samuel Kalu – not Chukwueze – who stepped up to the plate and produced the magical moment that yielded the Super Eagles winning goal.
Yet, the Villarreal forward continues to be ranked among the finest youngsters on the planet, which begs the question:
Is Samuel Chukwueze overrated?
— Olakunle FAYIGA (@kfayiga) November 14, 2019
There is little doubt that the young Nigerian international has been going through a rough patch of late: he has not scored for the Super Eagles since netting the opener in a 2-1 victory over South Africa at the quarter finals of the 2019 AFCON tournament in Egypt and has not found the back of the net or provided an assist in any of the last five games he has featured for club and country.
But to brush him off as just another flash-in-the-pan talent would be stretching the criticism beyond the realm of objectivity.
Chukwueze is a uniquely gifted footballer, who is viewed more as a reincarnation of Arjen Robben than a low-budget Xherdan Shaqiri and there has to be a reason – aside his colourful boots – why the FIFA U17 World Cup winner is courting attentions from the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool.
The 20-year-old has already bagged four goals (2 in the La Liga and 2 in the Copa del Rey) in only 7 starts for the Yellow Submarines this term, providing one other assist. That is no bad stats, just four months into the season, for a player who scored 8 goals in all competitions during an ‘excellent’ last campaign.
Since exploding onto the scene last season – a journey that began with his LaLiga debut in November, Chukwueze has been a delight to watch, whether he is stepping away from challenges and speeding into space, or holding onto the ball a little longer to bring his team-mates into play.
Who can yet forget that fine display against eventual champions Barcelona, that resulted in a goal and assist in a thrilling 4-4 draw last term.
With his great strength and acceleration, Chukwueze has proven to be a fine outlet on the break, while his agility and trickery can help him develop into a player that can unlock the tightest of defences.
His development is evident to even the plain-sighted in a team where he has played not just as a right-sided winger but also in the No. 10 role, and on occasions even as a support forward.
Does that mean Chukwueze is a finished product?
Far from it.
He may have been likened to Sadio Mane by former Liverpool left back, Alberto Moreno, but Chukwueze might not even make the Reds match day squad should he switch to Anfield this minute. Yes, Villarreal may have sneaked a hefty €100 million release clause in his contract but no club will cough out half of that for the Nigerian just yet.
The reason is simple: Chukwueze may boast all the talent never before seen down Nigeria’s right wing, but the youngster still lacks consistency in his impact, his decision-making regarding his passes in the final third and in how to attack teams who sit back and deny him space to race into.
But that is not enough reason to rubbish the potentials of one of the world’s finest young talents.
Chukwueze may not be the next Messi but he is on track to be the best he can possibly ever be. And for that, none of the plaudits coming the way of the 2019 Kopa Trophy Ballon d’Or nominee is overcooked.