New Nigeria football sensation, Samuel Chukwueze’s talent would’ve gone unnoticed had he succumbed to the desire of his mother, who protested with his involvement in football.
The 20-year-old Villarreal winger said in an interview with Goal.com that if his mother had her way, he would never have been a professional footballer.
“My mum always tried to stop me from playing football. I loved to play at a very young age, but she would try to stop me. She would make me stay in the house and focus on my studies.”
Chukwueze’s grandfather had been a player at a local level – a left-footer too, like his grandson – but when young Samuel was naturally drawn to the game, playing on rock-hard surfaces at his school in Umuahia, southeast Nigeria, the resistance was strong.
“I was a good student,” Chukwueze said. “But when you love something and you are so passionate about it, it becomes your focus. Your studies start to fade. I was obsessed with playing football.
“Sometimes, I would go to training and would return home late and I knew I was going to get punished. They’d said I would have to sleep outside. My mum would say I couldn’t come inside the house!
“My uncle told me ‘Samuel, you need to stop playing this game and focus on school’ but I didn’t listen. Then, one day they burnt my boots! All my training wears, they burnt them so I couldn’t go.”
The Super Eagles playmaker revealed that he was surprised one early morning; his mother was the one that urged him to follow his colleagues for a trial.
“I stopped playing for a while,” he said. “But one morning one of my friends told me there was a screening happening, where they were picking players to go to a tournament in Portugal.
“I told them I wasn’t interested because I knew my family wouldn’t allow me to go. He said he would come to my house, but I begged him not to. I told him not to disturb my sleep, but he came around 6 o’clock in the morning.
“My mum, the person who doesn’t like football, who didn’t want me to play football, was the person who answered the door.
“The person who pushed me away from football was the one who pushed me to that screening. She said God had told her ‘you must allow this boy to play. I’m so glad for that.”
Two years later, he was ready to move to Europe. A host of clubs was keen. Chukwueze visited the likes of Porto, Sporting, PSG, and Salzburg, while Arsenal got close too.
Villarreal, though, was the preferred choice and so Chukwueze, 18 years old, was off to Spain.
The adaptation, naturally, was tough. Chukwueze chose not to live at Villarreal’s Academy, as many young players do, instead of moving into an apartment with a teammate.
“I wanted independence,” he said. “I wanted to learn to cook for myself, to look after myself. I came alone and I knew I had to grow up fast.”
Meanwhile, Chukwueze revealed his admiration for former Nigerian international, Jay-Jay Okocha.
The young winger, who is known for his dribbling skills, disclosed his respect for his football idol.
“My big hero is Jay-Jay Okocha. I loved watching him, and whenever he played for Nigeria, I would be so desperate to see him win. If they lost, I wouldn’t eat. I couldn’t take it,” Chukwueze told Goal.
“In my home town, we would have a local centre and I would try to go there to watch Nigeria games. We didn’t have a TV, but there was one there. I would peep through the window to see Okocha and the rest.”