New Telegraph


Super Eagles forward, Samuel Chukwueze, in an interview with CHARLES OGUNDIYA in Garoua, Cameroon, has said the team would qualify for the World Cup and the Africa Cup of Nations in Cote d’Ivoire in 2023 so as to appease Nigerians after their failure to make it through to the finals of the 33rd AFCON in Cameroon

What would you say the 2021 AFCON has done to your career as a player?

Seriously it meant a lot to me; since I started my career and have been playing, partaking at the AFCON is always a dream of every African because it is a big tournament and a good one for the continent. Although I was thinking of winning it so I could write my name in gold, it was not meant to be. So, we have to go again, although we have to get our acts together and qualify for the World Cup first and also for the 2023 AFCON and see how far we can go.

This tournament afforded Nigerians the opportunity to see a certain generation of U-17 players that came up between 2013 and 2015 with almost all of you playing the U-23 together; was it like old days coming back for you guys?

That’s what people have been saying, it was like a reunion for us. I played alongside Victor Osimhen and Kelechi Nwakali at the 2015 FIFA U-17 World Cup while Kelechi Iheanacho, Taiwo Awoniyi and Francis Uzoho all played at the 2013 World Cup; it is a new era for us the younger ones and it should also serve as motivation for those coming behind to keep working hard because they will get to the stage we are at the moment also.

At the moment you have coaches and two teammates who have won the AFCON in the past, would you say they were motivating factors for you during the journey in Cameroon?

Having them in the team actually helped us through the group stages and we were looking forward to lifting the trophy like they did, but at the end of the day, it was not meant to be; we will continue to work hard and surely, we will achieve our goal soon, probably during the 2023 AFCON.

How disappointed are you missing the trophy?

A big disappointment for me because I actually told my club to book my flight back to Spain on the 7th or 8th of February because I was so sure we were getting to the final of the competition, but it was not meant to be; we are out and the target now is to qualify for the 2022 World Cup and also make it to the 2023 AFCON.

How has it been with you at Villarreal?

Last year was a very hard year for me. I went through two surgeries, coming back from one and having to go for the second one again, being away from the team for five months and later trying to get my fitness back and coming to play for the national team again. I want to appreciate Villarreal, they’re just like a family to me, they have been there for me, five months out and also leaving them for the national team, the club really helped me and I want to say I love everyone at that club, I can do anything for them.

How did it all start for you as a footballer?

It started like every other kid; 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 train-ing 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.”

So that was how your mum finally agreed to let you play football?

She didn’t have any choice because I was doing very well and my coach also usually came around then to talk to her. I later went to the U-17 in 2013, I didn’t make it due to injury and I later came back in 2015 and we won the competition. My mum has been everywhere with me, even when I went to sign my professional contract in Arsenal, Porto and Villarreal, she was always there.

Your career from U-17 to the Super Eagles happened just within a few years, did you expect it to be that fast?

Seriously I wasn’t expecting it to be that fast because it all happened within a year; my debut in Villarreal, my debut in the Super Eagles, all came through within three months; it was very fast and I want to thank God for that.

Are you happy with where you are today?

Very happy, I want to thank those people around me, pushing me to be better, for their advice, they keep pushing me, urging me to be good and play better, and for me I am just starting.

What would you say have been the difficult moments of your career as a player?

I will surely pick the injury, going through two surgeries within a year, making me to miss the Europa Cup final against Arsenal, that was a bad moment. It wasn’t the worst, but not also good because I was able to win the Europa Cup, although I didn’t play in the final as I would have loved to.

So, which would you say is the best moment for you now?

I will say winning the Europa because apart from the junior World Cup, that was the first club trophy for me.

Your career started with Arsenal, how was it like for you meeting them in the final?

Nothing much, I just wanted to give my best and make a name for myself and write my name in the history of the club. I respect Arsenal and playing them was a great moment for me, but I wasn’t thinking about them as my first club, I was just thinking of my football and career.

How do you relax if you are not playing football?

I read some books because I love reading, just get more knowledge because I don’t like to be idle. I also watch movies and play some games, but most importantly, I love reading.

If you were not a footballer, what would you have been?

I wanted to be a football doctor, that has always been my dream and I am still working on achieving that in the future.

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