Nigerians Abroad: #1 Kelechi Nwakali

A returning series on our website: ‘Nigerians abroad’. There are dozens of Nigerians footballers who are excelling for their club – but aren’t receiving the acknowledgement they deserve. That’s where we,, come in. The bigger, more-known players will also feature in this series, but our main focus is on those Nigerians playing in the lesser known competitions across the globe. Such as our opener, which is in the Netherlands. I am talking about VVV-Venlo, a relegation candidate in the highest division – who has a very talented footballer in Kelechi Nwakali.

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Kelechi was born on 5 June 1988 in the city of Owerri (Imo State), a city in the southeast part of Nigeria – which roughly counts 166 thousand citizens. At least two of them are known worldwide; I am talking about Nwankwo and Christopher Kanu. The 19-year old has big shoes to fill if he wants to surpass their national and international achievements in the world of football.

‘Kele’ isn’t the only professional footballer in the family of Nwakali. His older brother, Chidiebere (20), was snatched away by Manchester City back in 2014 and the defensive midfielder currently plays on loan at Norwegian side Sogndal.

While brother Chidiebere was scouted by Manchester City, Kelechi attracted the interest from another gigantic Premier League club: Arsenal. Which shouldn’t surprise anyone, because Kelechi led Nigeria U17 to the World Cup title of 2015 in Chile as captain. Kelechi scored three goals and three assists, which FIFA led to the decision of crowning Nwakali as the tournament’s best player. With his three goals, he also won the ‘Bronze Boot’.

The Gunners were discussing a deal where both Kelechi Nwakali as Samuel Chukwueze would make the move from Diamond Academy to theirs. Unfortunately, the deal fell through for latter, meaning Arsenal had to ament the deal – which they did. The Premier League bought the attacking midfielder for roughly €3.500.000 (Kelechi is also partly owned by Academy of Saint Joseph – Owerri) and he signed a five-year deal in the summer of 2016. The Nigerian couldn’t get the right work permits, so he was loaned out to MVV Maastricht – a team in the second tier of the Netherlands.

From there on – things when quick for Nwakali. He went on playing 29 games, scoring twice. His goal tally isn’t wondrous, but playing 29 of the 38 games in your first European season is an achievement on his own. Unsurprisingly, MVV wanted to extend the loan deal, but weren’t the only candidates. Several clubs in the Eredivisie wanted the Nigerian on loan for the ongoing campaign. Kelechi choose for VVV-Venlo, the newcomers in the highest division.

Personally, Nwakali is a fantastic person too. The 19-year donated €200.000 in September 2017 to the various orphanage homes in the state of Imo – where he was born and bred. Not only did Kelechi made a monetary contribution, he also bought football boots for 36 kids, and paid for exercise books to all primary and secondary schools in Owerri West – his home town.

VVV-Venlo weren’t using Kelechi in their first three games, but he made his debut as substitute last Sunday (10 September) versus FC Groningen. In just fifteen minutes, he became the most dangerous player from VVV. To top his debut of, he scored the late equalizer with his head after personally setting the attack up (goal can be found on Youtube). His first minutes as VVV-player, while wearing number 25 like his idol Nwanko Kanu, were very promising and it’s a matter of time before Kelechi Nwakali becomes a regular in the starting eleven.