Milan, Italy, with its winding streets and vibrant atmosphere, is a favored holiday destination for travelers. Its iconic dish, risotto alla Milanese, is a culinary delight that lures tourists from around the world. But beyond its several wonders, Milan takes pride in its football culture, exemplified by the two legendary clubs, AC Milan and Inter Milan. These clubs reflect the city’s deep-rooted love for the beautiful game. However, for Nigerian footballers, their experiences in these clubs can be divided into two distinct categories: a promising opportunity, or a daunting challenge. One such Nigerian player may soon find an exit from the latter.
With modern football, it’s not uncommon for players to move between clubs. These transitions can stem from a variety of reasons. Some players seek more playing time to demonstrate their skills, while others are sought after by clubs in need of their talents. Some serve as substitutes or replacements for injured players, and for some, a transfer can be a pivotal career move. Samuel Chukuweze’s transfer to AC Milan from the Spanish club Villarreal falls into the latter category, symbolizing a potential step towards supercharging his career. However, his adventure in Milan has seen limited action, with just nine appearances this season, starting only twice and tallying a mere 320 minutes. Chukuweze’s longest spell on the field this season was 79 minutes during a 2-2 draw victory against Lecce, preceded by a 61-minute appearance in a UEFA Champions League match against Newcastle United. His struggles suggest that he might be joining a growing list of Nigerians who have found it challenging to excel in the red and black of the Rossoneri.
There are a couple of Nigerians in this horror class, Ezekiel Henty, Nnamdi Odumadi, Wilfred Osuji, and some others, who couldn’t establish themselves at AC Milan.
Before them was 16-year-old, Aliyu Datti. His arrival in Italy, signed by Padova, was heralded as a promising move. Datti’s remarkable performances in Serie B with Padova and Ravenna caught the attention of AC Milan which eventually led to his signing. He made his Serie A debut at the age of 16, on the 24th of January 1999, in the final minutes of a tight clash with Bologna, replacing Leonardo. Coming on with the score at 2-2, he won the free kick which Bruno N’Gotty scored for a last-gasp winner. After such a promising start, it went downhill from there and his second Serie A appearance took a whopping 15 months to materialize, marking the beginning of the end for his Milan career. Well, Aliyu Datti didn’t stand a chance of breaking into the Milan team that had formidable competition in its attacking department, featuring legends like George Weah, Andriy Shevchenko, and Oliver Bierhoff. Dati couldn’t hack it at Milan because of the far superior competition he had to contend with.
Taribo West followed a similar path: he enjoyed success at Inter Milan before falling out of favor under Marcello Lippi’s management. Under Lippi, he played only four times, registering one goal, the only one he ever scored for the club. West claimed that the Italian mafia played a role in his lack of playing time, asserting that they couldn’t accept an African defender outshining Italian club legends like Alessandro Costacurta, Paolo Maldini, and Franco Baresi. While the veracity of West’s allegations, the intense competition within the squad is another substantial factor in his limited opportunities.
Taye Taiwo, another Nigerian player, arrived at AC Milan with high expectations after a successful stint at the French club Olympique Marseille. Unfortunately, his time in Milan was marred by injuries and limited playing time. Taiwo expressed his dissatisfaction with his situation, pointing to issues with the coach and his relegation to the substitute bench. Despite his commitment to AC Milan, he started only six games for the club.
Samuel Chukuweze appears to be facing a similar predicament. Even though he can play both as a left-winger and as a right-winger, he faces stiff competition still. On the right wing, he contends with Christian Pulisic, who has notched 10 appearances and 4 goals in the 23/24 Serie A season so far. And on the left wing, he has competition in Rafael Leao.
To break the trend of Nigerian players struggling at Milan, Chukuweze must improve his decision-making, and goal-scoring abilities, and seize every opportunity to prove to Coach Stefano Pioli that he is not just a squad player. While the journey may be challenging, with dedication, hard work, and the never-say-die Nigerian Spirit Chukuweze can make a lasting impact in the red and black of AC Milan and break the duck of Nigerians having bad stints on that side of the winding streets of Milan.