That Kelechi Nwakali is a gifted footballer is not in doubt.
When many in his age grade were struggling to pass WAEC and gain admission into the higher institution, Nwakali was lifting the FIFA u-17 World Cup with Nigeria’s Golden Eaglets.
It is a pointer to his undoubted talents that at a tournament graced by precocious teenagers like Christian Pulisic, Dayot Upamecano, Odsonne Edouard, Victor Osimhen, and Samuel Chukwueze, Nwakali was considered the best of the lot and named the Golden Ball Award winner.
It was, therefore, no surprise to see Arsenal sign the youngster a year after that triumphant outing, with the English Premier League side expecting him to grow alongside their best kid-wonders, including Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka.
While those two have gone on to become key members of the senior side, Nwakali did not make a single appearance for the Gunners in three years.
Not that his quality was in doubt, he just did not produce top-quality performances regularly.
Arsenal sent him on several loan spells to help him level up. Dutch side MVV Maastricht witnessed glimpses of Nwakali at his best.
But VV Venlo and Porto B must have wondered what the hype about the Nigerian was following a string of underwhelming displays.
Nwakali’s time at Arsenal ended in 2019 as the Owerri-born footballer swapped London for Aragon, with Huesca handing him a three-year deal.
After 33 appearances for the Azulgranas, Nwakali is still looking for his first goal and assist, but the 23-year-old netted four times in 18 matches for Alcorcon while on loan last year.
Present Huesca manager Xisco Muñoz rates Nwakali highly and has integrated him into the first-team picture.
But Nwakali has drawn the ire of the Spanish tactician after taking nine days to report back to El Alcoraz following the Super Eagles’ elimination from the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations.
It seems his time at the club is done as his employers are fed up with his indiscipline and were reportedly close to selling him to Burgos FC on the winter transfer deadline day.
Nwakali’s contract with Huesca expires this summer, and he has refused to agree to an extension.
Having made his debut at the Afcon in Cameroon and impressing with his game management and dead-ball delivery, Nwakali will not be short of suitors when the transfer window opens.
But the Diamond Football Academy product is at the age when he should have found a place he calls home, playing consistently close to his best football.
Nwakali has the quality to play for one of Europe’s biggest clubs, but if he fails to nail it down soon enough, he may slip into oblivion as one of those could-have, would-have stories.