In this exclusive interview, Super Eagles’ rave of the moment, Samuel Chukwueze revealed his idol is not FC Barcelona and Argentina’s talisman, Lionel Messi, but Dutch and Bayern Munich of Germany legend, Arjen Robben. The Villarreal of Spain prodigy, also spoke on his rising football career, his future and tomorrow’s Africa Cup of Nations semi final cracker between Nigeria and Algeria and many more. He spoke to our Group Sports Editor, Emma Jemegah, in Cairo, Egypt.
How do you feel winning the man-of-the-match in the game against South Africa?
I’m so happy to win the award, it wasn’t an easy task for me and my teammates. This is my first major competition for the Super Eagles and I’m very happy to score my first goal. I really appreciate everybody who made it happen for me to play for the team. And thank God I did well.
Before the game, were you confident of having a good outing or did anybody tell you something that inspired you?
Yes, Mikel and Ahmed Musa gingered me with words of encouragement. They told me, ‘Hey! Samuel, you know how to play; you just need to enter the field and do what you know how to do best’. I wasn’t under any of pressure because I had been under this kind of situation before. So, I said to myself, let me just enter the field and enjoy myself. I hadn’t it in mind that I would emerge the best. It’s natural, when you enter the field and it’s your day, you’re going to do well.
Your dribbling runs are just like those of Messi; are we right to say that Messi is your inspiration?
Not at all. I don’t see Messi as my idol, I only see Arjen Robben of Holland as my idol. Every time I watch his video clips. Although he has retired, but I still watch his clips to learn from him. Almost every pattern he plays I replicate. When you are learning from an idol, you need to copy everything he does. Although he has retired, I still watch his clips to learn so many other things. I believe one day I will meet him. I was praying to play with him, but he has retired.
Do you think the Super Eagles can actually win the tournament?
I think so, if we keep our heads down and concentrate.
How do you feel, being the youngest playing among the big boys in the Super Eagles?
I feel happy to play among the stars, it’s a dream come true. Before I used to watch them on TV, and I said one day, I would like to be like them, play alongside with them, even if they are no longer playing for the Super Eagles. But, today, look at me, I’m living my dreams. Sometimes, in training, I watch them and forget I’m part of them. When I later get myself, I would just smile, saying ‘is it me’. It’s actually a dream come true for me.
You played five games in this tournament, which one will you say is the toughest?
The most difficult game, so far, in the tournament is the South Africa match. Because they played as a team; they were very good and tactically sound. It wasn’t easy playing them.
You started the first game against Burundi and we expected you to play in subsequent matches, but we didn’t see you play. Did you feel bad?
No, I didn’t feel bad because we are many in the team. We have about four players playing in the same position. Maybe, the coach is changing the players to get his preferred team. If I don’t play today, I will play tomorrow. Everybody who plays in the same position needs to do well. Everybody came to the same competition, and it’s not compulsory that because you did well the last match, you have to continue. The opposition determines the formation of the coach. So, the coach needs to test everybody.
Some of you who won the U17 World Cup, including Osimhen and the likes couldn’t do much in the U20 category; you didn’t even qualify for the African championship. Despite the set back, how were you able to break into the Super Eagles?
You know when you are in this kind of situation and you believe in yourself, anything can happen. I never let that set back affect me because I believe in myself. I keep on working hard, training hard and also praying.
What kind of relationship exists between you and other members of your set of U17 national team?
It’s a very great family because we stayed together like almost four years from the U-17 to the U-20. So, it’s a great family. We even created a Whatsapp forum to chat and have fun amongst ourselves. It’s not about the team, it’s just the spirit of oneness, a family.
Since the retirement of Okocha, Nigerians have been looking for a playmaker that would turn things around for the team. Can we clearly say we’ve found one in you?
I can’t say that, at least, on my part. Nigeria has so many players, so many talented players who can even play better than me; it’s just the opportunity that they need. Jay Jay Okocha is a legend and I’m learning from him, but I don’t play his pattern. He was a midfielder, and I’m an attacker. You can’t compare me with Okocha because we play different roles.
You played against Messi in the La Liga, can you share the experience?
You know how it feels playing against the greatest of all time! It was a great feeling, a dream come true for me. I couldn’t even imagine playing against somebody I’d been watching on TV for how many years in the Champions League, World Cup etc. It was great feeling for me.
You even scored in that game, and you must be feeling bad you lost the match.
Yes, that’s football for you. Although we needed the win, but in football it doesn’t matter if you win or lose, but your performance. And thank God we were not relegated at the end.
You’re linked with several offers, are we likely to see a move?
No, for now I’m still a Villarreal player, and I’m just focussing on this tournament to do my work here, for the team to do well.