On a night when Nigeria triumphed against South Africa to reach the semi-finals of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, the brightest star on the pitch was 20-year-old Samuel Chukwueze, who is shaping up to become Nigeria’s next big star on the pitch and in the marketplace.
The former U17 World Cup winner became the youngest goalscorer at the AFCON when he opened the account for the Super Eagles in the 27th minute after pouncing on a cutback from Alex Iwobi before defender William Ekong wrapped it up late to give Nigeria a 2-1 win.
Having arrived at the tournament as one of the most talked about young players, Chukwueze finally hit that promised spot with his Man-of-the-Match performance against Bafana Bafana in front of 45,000 fans in Cairo on Wednesday night.
He claimed four successful dribbles in the game where South Africa’s entire total was six even though they dominated possession by 62 per cent.
The Villarreal star was handed the gong for his top performance at the end of the game and he delivered one of his first major interviews with CAF TV.
Shy, yet able to put his points across, Chukwueze is quickly setting himself up as Nigeria’s next most marketable footballer. He doesn’t yet have the self-assuredness of Alex Iwobi, the team’s top earner at the moment but his on-field display could lead him way past his compatriot in the nearest future.
Going into the 2019 AFCON, not much has been spent by brands on player endorsements, unlike the 2018 FIFA World Cup where a few of the players appeared in advertisements.
The international retirement of Victor Moses, long Nigeria’s most marketable player, means that the field is opening up for others.
Iwobi headlined Pepsi’s “Naija All the Way” campaign and also signed a two-year deal with electronics giant LG. This year he only appears in a DStv campaign.
William Troost-Ekong was a key part of the Coca-Cola campaign for the World Cup in Russia. This year he appears as one of five players in the Leggo Naija spot alongside Iwobi, Wilfred Ndidi and coach Gernot Rohr. Ekong also headlines a cause with the New York-based the End Fund and Common Goal in a campaign against neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).
But it is Chukwueze that is likely to benefit the most from brands attention after this tournament. He is an exciting young footballer that has been mentioned in the same breath as Lionel Messi. His performances against Barcelona and Real Madrid last season were big. He scored against Barcelona in a game where he tore their defence apart.
So why have Nigerian brands been sleeping on him so far? He could have been gotten for cheap if any brand had been proactive. After this, his first senior tournament, his stock and asking price will definitely rise just as he is likely to move to a bigger club.
Chris Ogunlowo, Creative Director at SO&U said that the young star is in a very good position to become the face of not only Nigerian football but also that of top brands.
“For a time like this, I believe Nigerian football and general audience need a hero, someone that can be the symbol of possibilities, of grit, and a charming distraction from our national problems,” Ogunlowo told Soccernet.ng.
“His team can position him to be the guy. He should be approachable, playful, allowed to make silly mistakes, etc. He’s young too, which makes him a magnet for advertisers.
“He should stay true to himself and have a PR team that can help manage his image,” Ogunlowo concluded.
The opportunities are available for Samu to become a top-earning star on and off the field. Now he needs more international exposure, a top four team and a chance to play in the UEFA Champions League. He will be the master of his own fate.