He announced himself to the world last season, but the Nigerian winger performance level has dropped this campaign
When Samuel Chukwueze made his first-team debut for Villarreal in a Europa League clash against Rangers in 2018, the consensus was that the Yellow Submarines have a gem in their hands.
Following the clash against Steven Gerrard’s men, Chukwueze became a regular in Villarreal’s squad and even scored his first goal against Rayo Vallecano.
However, while he showed glimpses of what he’s made of, it was not until the clash against Real Madrid in January 2019 that he got the world’s attention.
The 21-year-old was a constant threat to Real Madrid’s defence with the likes of Sergio Ramos, Dani Carvajal, Marcelo and Raphael Varane all finding it difficult to cope with Chukwueze’s trickery and pace.
He capped off a wonderful evening with a brilliant assist for Carzola. The former Golden Eaglets star continued to impress in subsequent games, and once again in the clash against another Spanish giant- Barcelona in April 2019, Chukwueze showed he’s the real deal.
Just like in the game against Madrid, Barcelona defenders could not cope with his ability. He even went one better by scoring and providing an assist in a thrilling 4-4 draw between the two sides.
It’s important to note that the 2018/2019 season was his first year in Villarreal’s first team, which made his performances more impressive. At the end the season, Chukwueze made featured 35 times in all competitions for Villarreal with 26 coming as starts.
As a reward for his performances, Chukwueze was part of the Nigerian team that finished third at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt, scoring in the quarter-final win over South Africa.
He was also nominated for the 2019 Kopa Trophy Awards, finishing in ninth place, while he also inked a deal with Roc Nation Sports.
With the rise in profile, much was expected from the Nigerian international this campaign. But, Chukwueze has failed to match last season’s heights with just three goals and one assist in 27 league games this season.
In contrast, he scored five times and provided two assists in 26 league games last season. His number of starts also reduced this campaign, starting just 14 of Villarreal’s 28 league games this season.
The 21-year-old’s style has been criticised by former African player of the year winners, Samuel Eto’o and Frederick Kanoute.
The former La Liga stars claim Chukwueze needs to do better in front of goal and also be more of a team player.
“At the end of the day, they are going to look at his stats because it doesn’t matter if he can do three stepovers and dribble people, but if he doesn’t have an impact in the game for his team, then it’s going to be very difficult, Kanoute said
However, while it’s true that Chukwueze needs to add goals to his game, it’s important to note that he’s just 21, and only in his second season in the Spanish top flight.
His selfishness and instinct to always dribble were also criticised, but his performances this campaign shows he’s more of a team player and his link-up play has improved.
Last season, Chukwueze preferred to take on defenders and cut into his right, but this campaign, he’s more interested in team play, and that showed in Villarreal’s win over Celta Vigo on Saturday.
Even though he’s started in fewer games this season, Chukwueze has created six big chances for his team, which suggests the criticism of not playing for the team is harsh.
The Super Eagles star may not have hit last season’s form yet, but there’s no need to worry as he’s still a young player trying to find consistency in his game.