In a sense, Samuel Eto’o’s recent assessment of Samuel Chukwueze was understandable. After an encouraging breakout season last year, the Nigeria attacker has tailed off somewhat this year.
The wideman netted five goals in 2018/19 while registering two assists in 19 La Liga starts (26 in total) which wasn’t a bad return for a 19-year-old in his first season as a first-team player.
The fact he posted those figures despite the threat of relegation (Villarreal finished 14th, seven points from 18th, after an arduous campaign) and managerial merry-go-round (Javier Calleja was sacked in December, replaced by Luis Garcia shortly after, only to be reappointed in late January) was equally commendable.
Chukwueze could have scored more too, evidenced by his eight big chances missed statistic, the third-highest in the side behind Karl Toko Ekambi (10) and Gerard Moreno (16), two players who played significantly more than the young forward.
This year, however, has seen a drop in the 2015 U-17 World Cup winner’s end product. Before the Spanish top flight’s suspension, the Umuahia-born player had netted three times and assisted a solitary goal. Given there was hope he’d continue the upward trajectory of his maiden year this season, his decline has been a tad disappointing, but certainly not unexpected.
The development of any talent is usually accompanied by growing pains, and the forward’s apparent slump shouldn’t come as a surprise to observers, Eto’o inclusive.