To say Kelechi Nwakali is not talented will be synonymous to failing to state the obvious. He’s probably one of the most talented players to have come out of Nigeria in the past decade.
Describing him as otherworldly or never-seen-before will also be overbearing, as he’s just enough for the pleasure of self.
Fate stood before Nwakali’s feet when he failed to make the cut to the 2013 U-17 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates. Nigeria won the tournament with Kelechi Iheanacho taking the glory and plaudits at the competition.
Two years later in Chile, Nwakali had come of age. Coach of the Golden Eaglets at the time, Emmanuel Amuneke gave him the captaincy and greater responsibilities. He shone like a million stars, and won the Golden Ball award for the Most Valuable Player of the tournament.
Alongside Victor Osimhen and Samuel Chukwueze, two players who have had more stellar careers despite their initial lesser hype, Nwakali helped Nigeria to repeat their 2013 feat.
A big money move to Arsenal soon followed and Nigerians were excited at the possibilities of his becoming. Comparisons flew without caution, and he looked like a shoo-in replacement for John Mikel Obi.
He was also compared to the Nigerian midfield staple, Jayjay Okocha and was by gifts, the new holder and bearer of the Super Eagles’ creative burden.
His links to Arsenal made early comparisons with Kanu Nwankwo’s career with the Gunners almost impossible.
Nwakali’s career however failed to hit the heights at Arsenal, making different loan moves twice to Maastricht at the Eerste Divisie, then VVV Venlo in the Eredivisie and FC Porto B.
He finally made a move to SD Huesca in 2019 in what seemed like a process that could finally help him grow without raving eyeballs and mountainous expectations.
At a modest Spanish side, Nwakali’s career was seen to have taken the much-needed dip before a new ascent, after all, Osimhen, whom they had dominated the world together as cadets made a similar career move and it paid off.
In A Shadow of the Past
‘The big talent is persistence’ Octavia Butler once said. Nwakali has not had the career moves many expected him to make in the early stages, but football is a humbling game, like life.
While his talent speaks greatly and his abilities are undoubtedly exceptional, as seen in his early days, only work separates the best from the rest.
Football is a constantly evolving sport, with many players coming through the ranks, and they are made of equal, different, superior or inferior abilities.
Many players may not have an ounce of Nwakali’s talent, but their discipline and the desire to always be available stand them out.
A current Super Eagles player once tagged him as one of the best midfielders he has ever played against or with in his career, but also added that his discipline has little to cherish.
At Porto B, he stopped playing for months, reportedly over visa issues while the season was ongoing.
Although the internal details of his problems and tussles with those teams were not publicly stated, it becomes worrisome when they get repetitive.
At SD Huesca, his contract has been terminated over disciplinary issues, and his frosty relationship with the club’s coach, Xisco Munoz. Is Nwakali expectant of more and desirous of playing football in better established clubs? Perhaps. Disappointment may be an issue at the moment. He must make the most of the current times and seek help if he needs one.
The year 2015 was a long time ago and a lot, including injuries, have happened in seven years for the 23-year old
Opportunities are hard to come by in football, and form is the currency of the game. Accolades and plaudits, especially for youth players are easily forgotten and recent events reign.
He hasn’t lived up to expectations either in his progression since 2015 or with the Super Eagles.
There is still a long road ahead for the gifted midfielder, only if he can get off his high horse, least believe the hype and be professional in his conduct.
Only a few take prisoners in the game and he may not be lucky to get any of them.