‘My mom, uncle tried to stop me’ -Professional Football Star, Samuel Chukwueze Relives His Grass To Grace Story In Tell-All Interview

Samuel Chukwueze is a Nigerian professional footballer who plays for Villarreal CF and the Nigeria national team as a winger. Chukwueze was born in Umuahia, Abia state. The young star started playing football at the age of 8.

If Chukwueze’s mother and uncle had their way, their son would never have been a professional footballer. At 20, the Villarreal winger is one of Europe’s most exciting young talents, a player whose skills have put him firmly on the radar of the continent’s elite clubs.

He’s one of La Liga’s best prospects, a current and future star of the Nigerian national team. Chukwueze’s career is on the up, but it might well have been over before it began.

In an exclusive interview with Goal.com, Chukwueze shared his grass to grace story. He talked about how he started out as a footballer and the resistance he got from his mother and uncle.

Interestingly, according to him, his mother was eventually the same person who later encouraged him to follow his dreams. He shared:

“My mum always tried to stop me from playing football. I loved to play from a very young age but she would try to stop me. She would make me stay in the house and focus on my studies.

Sometimes, I would go to training and would return home late, and I knew I was going to get punished. They’d say 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 gear, they burnt them so I couldn’t go.

I stopped playing for a while, 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 6am.

My mum, the person who doesn’t like football, who didn’t want me to play football, was the person who answered the door. She woke me up that morning, I was so surprised. She told me my friend was there to pick me up. I told her I wasn’t going and she was the one who said I should take my boots and leave the house! I was so surprised.

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.”

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The ‘screening’, as Chukwueze calls it, was for the Diamond Football Academy, the biggest in Umuahia. And it didn’t go entirely to plan at first. He recalls:

“The coach told me I was too late. They had enough players. I was outside waiting for my friend so we could go home, but the manager of the Academy told the coach to allow me to train so they could see what I could do.

I trained, just for a few minutes so the coach could watch, and I did enough to impress him. That was where my career started. I became the top scorer of the Academy, I went to Portugal and won the highest goalscorer award at that tournament, and things went from there.”

He also revealed how much he admired former Nigerian captain, Jay-Jay Okocha as his football idol while growing up. According to the Villarreal forward, Okocha is his “big hero.” He said:

“My big hero was 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.

“In my home town, we had 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.”

Chukwueze’s grandfather had been a player at 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, the resistance was strong. Chukwueze says:

“I was a good student. 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.”

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Chukwueze’s rise was rapid. In 2015, he was a key player in the team which won the FIFA U17 World Cup in Chile, shining in a tournament which also featured the likes of Christian Pulisic, Eder Militao and Trent Alexander-Arnold.

“I was just playing for fun, just enjoying myself,” he says. “I never knew it could take me anywhere.”

Two years later, he was ready to move to Europe. A host of clubs were keen. Chukwueze visited the likes of Porto, Sporting, PSG and Salzburg, while Arsenal got close too. Villarreal, though, were 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 moving into an apartment with a team-mate. He says:

“I wanted independence. I wanted to learn to cook for myself, to look after myself. I came alone and I knew I had to grow up fast.”

He remembers struggling initially with the Spanish language and, especially, in terms of food.

“I didn’t even know what they were giving me at first, but I didn’t like it!” he laughs. “The meat…there was blood everywhere! But I am adapting, I have learned to love it. I love Spain. My Spanish is improving, I can understand it better than I can speak it.”

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In Villarreal’s Cantera, he struck up an immediate friendship with Pau Torres, a towering centre-back who has since followed him into the first-team. Torres would drive him to training, act as his minder on the pitch and help him with language and cultural problems.

Chukwueze’s coaches, meanwhile, were struck by what they saw. The teenager’s pace was electric, his dribbling left defenders terrified, and he had end product too.

Chukwueze has been in great form since signing for the Yellow Submarines from Diamond Academy in Abuja. He scored five goals and created two assists in 26 La Liga appearances last season. The young forward has also started the new 2019/20 season well, scoring one goal in three league appearances.

Family is indeed a great factor in achieving greatness, they could hinder/propel one’s dream.

Congratulations young man!

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