Golden boy Kelechi Nwakali has opened up on his new deal with Spanish club side SD Huesca and how he parted way with Arsenal. He spoke with Taiwo Alimi.
Fresh from leading the Nigeria U-17 team (Golden Eaglets) to winning the 2015 FIFA U17 World Cup, Kelechi Nwakali got the attention English Premier League giant, Arsenal that wasted no time in snapping him up.
Nwakali had emerged the MVP of the championship as he captained and marshalled the Nigerian team from the midfield to beat Mali 2-0 in the final game played at Vina del Mar stadium in Chile. Yet, the championship paraded some of the brightest names that have taken the stage by storm. Some of them are Victor Osimhen, Samuel Chukwueze, Trent Alexander-Arnold, and Lee Seung-woo.
The 21-year old has gone on to captain the Nigeria U-20 squad, and recently the U-23 team.
Naturally, after winning the Golden Ball award as a teenager, there was plenty of hype behind the youngster when he signed for Arsenal a few months later but that excitement was cut short when he was sent out on loan.
But after three and a half years, a series of loans away from the Emirates and no appearances for the Gunners’ first team, Nwakali has sought a permanent deal with Spanish outfit SD Huesca.
He talked about his time with his dream club-Arsenal and why he finally parted way with the famous London club .
“Well! What happened between Arsenal and I was a decision I had to make,” explainedNwakali who would celebrate his 21st anniversaryon 5th June.
“Though, it was a tough decision for me, all the same I needed to get my career back on track because staying in Arsenal and going on loan and everything is frustrating.
“I can’t stay in the club. I’ve been going on loan. I was not settled. I needed a place to settle down and call my own, a home. That is very important for a player. “Though, before I left Arsenal I still have two-year contract with them but I just needed to go and settle down so I can concentrate and make an impact. “Hopefully, in the future I hope we can reconnect again. If that will happen, then it will be a dream come true.
“Truth is it is my heart desire to play for Arsenal but only God knows the next step for me. If it happens, fine, if doesn’t, I just need to move on.”
The loan spell from 2016 to clubs like MVV Maastricht and VVV Venlo in the Dutch league and FC Porto in the Portuguese Primiera Liga,he said affected his concentration: “Going on loan to three different clubs helped me make this decision to move out of Arsenal. I need that concentration that a permanent team will give me.
“There is a way that loan deal affects you, especially if your heart is in the parent team. I could not concentrate properly. At the same time I have to impress Arsenal. But, now I have to focus on one club and my game. That will help me to focus and build more on my game.”
Nwakali, however, described the permanent deal with SD Huesca as a breath of fresh life and explained thus: “My move to SD Huesca to be honest is because like I said earlier, I needed a permanent club where I will feel at home.
“A place I can call home. I would have loved to play and stay at Arsenal, but I’m tired of going on loan every season. I need a home and since I did not have a work permit to play in England, I just needed to move on.
“Get a place to call mine. When the SD Huesca deal came up, I checked and realised that they were in La liga before they were relegated. So, I told myself that this would be a great opportunity to play for them and help them in any way I can.
“Even, if the team did not get back into first flight action, I can get to e a part of a project. I checked that they have a great team and with their standing right now-they are fourth on the table and the top two teams are topping with six points. So, there is a tendency for the team to get promoted.
“The deal was even done the last day of the transfer window, they didn’t want me to leave but at the same time I was giving them reasons why I should leave Arsenal.
He added: “Staying in England and not playing, going on loan, I went on loan three times. Its better I go to a place where I can settle instead of going to a place where after one year I leave. It was difficult moving around, from Holland and then Portugal.
“Even if it’s going to take time, I’ll work it out; I still have age on my side.Arsenal have been my dream team, but one thing is sure, is not late yet, the aim is to just go there and get more playing time because there is a buy-back option in the contract.
“Well, the truth is that football is all about growing and I believe everyone wants to play along with top players, but like I said earlier, I just want to go here and make my mark and to get back on the track.”
He is also optimistic that he would do well in Huesca. “When I came to Spain, I started training with the team and I was beginning to understand the way they play and getting into the main thing, when the coronavirus pandemic struck. I’m close to start playing from the team. Once we get back to the pitch, I know I would get my opportunity and I just have to keep working and believing.”
He would also be reconnecting with his U17 teammate, Samuel Chukwueze, who plays for Villarreal.
“Reuniting with some Nigerian players in Spain is great. Players like Samuel (Chukwueze) Omeruo and all of them. But for the pandemic, I’ve not been able to meet with them or hang out but at the same time I believe that when the season starts again, we would be able to do all that. We have been keeping in touch, though.”
Nwakali cherishes playing for his country and he has had a rear privilege of captaining three Nigerian squads; U17, U20 and recently the U-23.
“It felt good to captain the Nigeria Olympic team. I captained the Nigeria U17, the U20 and now the U23, feels good. However, I must state correctly that I was the assistant captain but when we went to Egypt the captain did not make the first game and so I captained the first game.
“It was good though to know that you have captained from U17 to U23. It means that coaches and people see something good in me. I believe that it would have been a great opportunity if we had made it to the Olympics, but it was not to be,” he said.
Nigeria will be missing out in the football event of the Olympics, though.
He said:” Going to the Olympics would have been a dream come true. This is based on the knowledge that I played in the U17, U20 and U23, it would have been like a graduation for progress playing in all the national teams before Super Eagles. But, it did not happen, but I am keeping my head up and keep working.
“Sadly, this is my last opportunity to play in the U23 because I can’t play in that level again. For me to play U23 again, I would have to play as one of the overage players. I wish the next set of players luck and hope that Nigeria will be back at the Olympics.”
So, how has he been coping with the lockdown in Spain?
“I’ve been training at home because there is an App used to call every member of the team. There is a team program that has been circulated and we do o our own. We also have a video program that the coaches can see us and monitor us as we keep ourselves fit and what we are doing.So, we are able to keep fit.”