Arsenal have expressed an interest in signing Nigerian teenagers Kelechi Nwakali and Samuel Chukwueze but face a battle to secure work permits for the pair under the Football Association’s stricter guidelines.
Manchester City, Barcelona and Bayern Munich are among a number of clubs monitoring Nwakali, who won the Golden Ball award at last year’s FIFA Under-17 World Cup.
The 17-year-old attacking midfielder admitted in an interview in October that “I want to play for a side that’s going places, like Manchester City”. His brother, Chidiebere, is currently on City’s books but he was signed prior to the FA tightening regulations in conjunction with the Home Office last summer.
Players aged under 21 must have featured in 75 per cent of their country’s international matches in the 12 months prior to an application being made, if that association is ranked inside the top 50 by FIFA. Nigeria’s current ranking is 66 but their aggregate over the past two years puts them at No43.
Nwakali is a regular at youth team level and any English club wishing to sign him would almost certainly have to make their case to an Exceptions Panel. The same applies to Chukweuze, who is a 16-year-old winger. Both players may have to wait until they are 18 years old – at the earliest – before being allowed to join Arsenal due to FIFA’s rules regarding the international transfers of minors from outside the European Union.
As such, no transfer fee has yet been finalised. For the time being, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger may have to concentrate on developing the existing young talent within his squad and he believes Alex Iwobi and Jeff Reine-Adelaide are ready for regular Premier League football in the second half of the season.
Iwobi, 19, was handed only his second Arsenal start in last weekend’s FA Cup win over Sunderland as Wenger rested five players ahead of Wednesday’s Premier League trip to Liverpool.
It was the culmination of a spell of sustained progress for the winger, who signed a new long-term contract with the club in October and has been included in the Gunners’ last eight matchday squads as he forces his way into Wenger’s first-team plans.
Midfielder Reine-Adelaide, 17, who made his senior debut as a substitute against Sunderland, has been named on the bench in Arsenal’s last five games and Wenger claims the pair are now ready for prolonged exposure to action at the highest level.
Both players will not be short of suitors should Wenger decide to send either player out on loan and the Frenchman said: “I have other young players who excite me in the academy but Reine-Adelaide looks ready physically to cope with the challenges and the intensity.
“Iwobi is a bit older and he too looks mature enough to cope with the physical challenges of the Premier League. He has the technical level. What is exciting is that he can run with the ball, pass the ball and can resist challenges. That is very interesting. When you can turn up with 60,000 around you, that is what is at stake. Both of them can deal with that.
“In the difficult period of the game for us against Sunderland in the first half, Iwobi was one of the players who was the most convincing. He tired a little in the second half but overall it was a very positive experience.”
The Gunners have won seven of their last eight matches in all competitions dating back to the beginning of December with their only defeat coming in a 4-0 thrashing at Southampton on Boxing Day.
And Wenger insists Arsenal head to Merseyside brimming with self-belief after their fine recent run of form.
“The consistency of our results is very important,” said Wenger. “Therefore it was important to win on Saturday and not to break that belief. It was good for me to see some players that have played less and to be down 1-0 and respond in the way we did and have an outstanding second half. It was all a very positive basis in preparation for Liverpool.
“The momentum creates confidence and confidence is vital at that level. In December and now in January we have been consistent and we go into a very important part of the season because we play many games and that consistency is a good basis to go into the next game with the right belief.”
Alexis Sanchez is not expected to return from a hamstring injury in time for the trip to Anfield – Sunday’s trip to Stoke is a more realistic target – but Mesut Ozil will be recalled after being rested against the Black Cats.
By James Olley
Originally published in London’s Evening Standard