A Fresh Start For Kelechi Nwakali


“Remember the saddest thing in life is a wasted talent. You can have all the talent in the world, but if you don’t do the right thing, then nothing happens, but when you do right, guess what, good things happen.”

These were Roberto De Niro’s words to his son in the 1993 critically acclaimed movie, A Bronx Tale. Growing up, young Calogero Anello wanted to be a baseball player, and the two time Oscar winner told his son what he must do.

In 2015, the Golden Eaglets made history by winning their fifth U-17 World Cup, and defending the title their predecessors won in 2013.

The Emmanuel Amuneke managed side had some talented players, but three players stood out from the rest- Victor Osimhen, Kelechi Nwakali and Samuel Chukwueze were their names.

Osimhen finished as the top scorer, Nwakali won the Golden Ball, while Chukwueze picked up the Bronze boot with three goals and three assists.

The three youngsters were tipped for a big future following their displays at the tournament, but only two have lived up to the hype so far.

Osimhen is currently one of the best young players in the world right now after his early struggles at Wolfsburg and his battles against malaria. The 21-year-old recently joined Napoli from Lille for a club and African record fee of 81.3 million euros.

At the same time, Chukwueze’s profile has continued to rise since he broke out with Spanish side Villarreal two seasons ago. The 21-year-old was nominated for the 2019 KOPA awards, and he is one of the exciting prospects in La Liga.

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While Chukwueze and Osimhen have made headways in their careers, the same cannot be said about the last part of the trident- Nwakali.

The 22-year-old was touted as a future solution to Nigeria’s creative midfielder problem, but he has had to battle a lot of issues in the last few years.

A year after winning the 2015 U-17 World Cup, Nwakali signed for Premier League side Arsenal. However, he could not feature for the Gunners due to a lack of work permit and was loaned out immediately to MVV Maastricht.

Following his spell at the Dutch side, was sent out on loan to VV Venlo before spending another year again at Maastricht.

After his second stint at Maastricht, the midfielder went out on loan to FC Porto, and it was believed the move would aid his development.

However, it turned out to be a nightmare for him, which he confirmed recently. During his one year stay in Portugal, Nwakali never made an appearance for Porto’s first team.

Speaking in an interview on his time at Porto, Nwakali said: “There was a time, I was having doubt in myself, I wondered if I was not up to it anymore.”

“It was difficult mentally for me, but my mind was made up, that I had to leave,” Nwakali added. After his troubles at Porto, he joined Spanish side, Huesca permanently.

As at that time, Huesca was in the Spanish second division, but it offered him a new opportunity. However, his woes continued as he could not join the side until six months later.

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During this time, Nwakali was stuck in Nigeria with many fans criticising him for not taking his career seriously. But the midfielder hit back, saying he could not link up with the team because of visa issues.

“It was difficult mentally not playing for a year, so going through all of that and coming on the internet to see someone say, I am gallivanting, was hurtful, I was bothered,” he explained.

“A lot of Nigerian fans had the impression that I am just sitting in Nigeria doing nothing.”

A new beginning finally. 

After more than seven months, Nwakali finally joined his new side and played the last five games as Huesca gained promotion back to the Spanish top-flight. He made his La Liga debut in Huesca’s opening game Chukwueze’s Villarreal.

A chance to play on the big stage after what has been a topsy turvy career offers Nwakali another opportunity to start afresh.

Although he needs to get more minutes, his style is perfectly suited for the Spanish game and would not have a problem adapting to the top level.

He can take inspiration from one of his class of 15 teammates, Victor Osimhen, who also fought a couple of battles before his breakthrough.

However, Nwakali will need to put in the work and determination just like Osimhen did, and also use effectively every opportunity he gets this season.

Still only 22, Nwakali has enough time to develop into a top player and fulfil potential not just at club level, but on the international stage.

The playmaker’s talent is undeniable, but just like Lorenzo Anello told his son in the movie A Bronx Tale, talent will only take an athlete to the top if he does the right thing.

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