By Arsenal correspondent Tony Hughes| Premier League expert with experience of breaking big stories, including exclusives like this
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Ask anyone in football recruitment and they will tell you there are no guarantees with young players.
This is especially the case for those arriving from cultures and environments worlds apart from the one they will experience at Arsenal’s cosseted training headquarters.
Nevertheless, the word at Arsenal is that new signing Kelechi Nwakali could be something special.
The 17-year-old is one half of a January double deal that could eventually cost the notoriously cautious Premier League giants £4million.
Along with Samuel Chukwueze, his countryman and fellow star of last year’s Fifa Under-17 World Cup, Nwakali will initially link up with the club’s Academy at Hale End.
The duo will hope to follow in the footsteps of blue chip overseas arrivals like Cesc Fabregas, Hector Bellerin, Wojciech Szczesny, Johan Djourou and Nicklas Bendtner and establish themselves as first-team regulars in the red-and-white jersey.
Of the two Nigerians, the more experienced Nwakali could have a genuine chance.
Described by one Arsenal Academy source to Football Insider as “exciting, very, very exciting”, Nwakali was named as player of the tournament in last year’s Fifa Under-17 World Cup in Chile.
Naturally, scouts from Europe’s elite were in attendance and moves were made by Bayern Munich and Manchester City, among others, to prise the pair from Nigeria’s Diamond Academy.
But Arsenal, who have been working on the double deal for nearly six months, had the trump card of being able to offer the youngsters a route into the first team by following the path trodden by Fabregas and company. City have the ambition, resources and world-class set-up, but could not match that.
In Nwakali in particular, Arsenal may have unearthed a gem. He is both midfield enforcer and general, an A-list amalgamation of Patrick Vieira’s commanding presence and Mesut Ozil’s eyes-in-the-back-of-the-head vision.
“The first time I saw him, my first thought was Patrick Vieira,” says Victor Apugo, the team manager of Diamond Academy. “He was playing for All Stars junior academy in Umuahia. Everybody agreed we had to sign him.
“He was doing everything right in midfield. And he was everywhere.”
After receiving visa and work permit clearance, Nwakali underwent an Arsenal medical on Friday before signing a four-year contract with the club. Chukwueze should follow him next month.
Nwakali has told the Nigerian Tribune that he will request the same No25 shirt worn by his hero, countryman and former Gunners striker Kanu, widely regarded as one of Nigeria’s greatest players.
Intriguingly, the teenagers’ former coach Nduka Ugbade, who was Nigeria Under-17 captain when they won the first World Cup in 1985, says the key for the youngsters could be that they do not get too comfortable.
“These are young boys who are leaving their country to stay abroad permanently,” Ugbade said. “It is important that the club provide them with people who will guide them.
“I am not worried about their talent or their ability to cope under harsh conditions. They can do that very well. It is their ability to cope under comfortable conditions that is important.
“They are coming from a place of hardship to a place of comfort, and there might be the tendency for them to believe they have arrived. If that happens, they will lose motivation and their performance will drop.
“But if they have people who will constantly advise them that this is only the beginning, then the sky will be their limit.”