Chelsea stole a march on a host of European rivals on Monday by agreeing a £20million fee with Aston Villa for highly-rated teenager Carney Chukwuemeka.
Thomas Tuchel has been itching to bolster his midfield ahead of the Premier League season getting underway and the youngster is ready to become his latest recruit.
The Blues have already added Raheem Sterling, Kalidou Koulibaly and goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina to their squad this summer, and Chukwuemeka is now set to follow them through the door at Stamford Bridge.
Sportsmail have taken a look at what the 18-year-old could offer Chelsea this season, highlighting what he has achieved in his fledgling career to date, why he has attracted interest from some of Europe’s biggest clubs, and whether he can realistically break into Tuchel’s starting XI in the near future.
Carney Chukwuemeka is set to join Chelsea from Aston Villa in a deal worth £20million
Who is Chukwuemeka and what has he accomplished so far?
Chukwuemeka was born in the small Austrian city of Eisenstadt in October 2003 to Nigerian parents before moving to England, where he was raised in Northampton.
As a result, he is eligible to represent three countries, but he has elected to play for England at youth level, and he has already caught the eye for the Under-19s.
In just 11 appearances for the team, he has scored five times, and he was a standout performer at this summer’s Under-19 European Championships.
He netted in England’s opening two games of the tournament against Austria and Serbia before being handed the captain’s armband for the final group match against Israel.
England went on to play Israel again in the final, and Chukwuemeka scored his third goal of the tournament in extra-time to seal a 3-1 victory and the trophy.
Chukwuemeka played a pivotal role in England Under-19s European Championship campaign
Chukwuemeka scored in the European Championship final against Israel this summer
England went on to win the final 3-1 as Chukwuemeka (right) helped them to European glory
He was subsequently named in the Team of the Tournament, capping a remarkable fortnight for the youngster.
Meanwhile, Villa have known about his talent for some time. Having initially come through Northampton’s academy, he joined the Villains as a 12-year-old in 2016.
Chukwuemeka went on to play a significant role in Villa’s FA Youth Cup win in 2020-21 before making his top flight debut as a late substitute at Tottenham in May 2021.
His first Premier League start followed in the early weeks of the 2021-22 campaign as Dean Smith named him in his starting line-up against Brentford last August.
Chukwuemeka made 11 further league appearances last term, and was regularly called up to the team’s matchday squad.
Is Chukwuemeka leaving Villa on good terms?
It doesn’t seem that way, no.
With his contract due to expire next year, Chukwuemeka had been offered a new deal to extend, and at one stage Steven Gerrard was hopeful of convincing him to stay.
‘We want him to stay here long-term. We believe this is the best place for Carney. I hope that situation progresses in a positive way,’ Gerrard told reporters in May.
Chukwuemeka may not be leaving Villa on the best terms after rejecting a contract offer
However, Chukwuemeka was unwilling to accept Villa’s proposed terms, leading to Gerrard leaving him out of Villa’s pre-season squad for their tour of Australia.
‘Carney is yet to sign a contract offer that has been in place for some time now. I’ve decided the best thing for him would be to continue his training programme back at Bodymoor,’ Gerrard said as he explained his decision to Villa TV.
Chukwuemeka is now set to move on, and it is likely that Villa will be disappointed to lose one of their brightest talents to a Premier League rival.
Who else has tried to sign him?
Having rejected an extension to his deal at Villa Park, it was hardly surprising that interested parties started to step up their interest in Chukwuemeka.
Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund have both been linked with taking Chukwuemeka away from the Premier League this summer. AC Milan also had a £3m offer rebuffed.
Having lost out to Barcelona for Raphinha and Jules Kounde, Chelsea may have been concerned about the prospect of missing out on a third player to their Spanish counterparts.
However, Tuesday’s announcement of an agreement with Villa for Chukwuemeka looks to have allayed these fears, and it appears the midfielder will be staying in England after all.
Chelsea missed out on Raphinha as the winger opted to join Barcelona instead this summer
They also missed out on Jules Kounde to Barcelona, but have beaten them to Chukwuemeka
What is Chukwuemeka’s playing style?
Chukwuemeka is still trying to make his way in the senior game, but his dribbling ability is already a clear strength.
Standing at 6ft 1in, the rangy midfielder is consistently able to glide into the final third of the pitch with the ball seemingly glued to his feet.
The Premier League is known for its pace and intensity, meaning that Chukwuemeka is unlikely to be afforded the same time and space that has allowed him to flourish at youth level.
He is far from a one-trick pony, though, having shown that he has the quick feet and intelligence needed to play one-twos in and around the penalty area to open up opposition defences.
Chukwuemeka (middle) is not afraid to take on opponents with the ball at his feet
Another asset that may have attracted Chelsea to him is Chukwuemeka’s goalscoring ability.
In Villa’s FA Youth Cup triumph last year, Chukwuemeka scored seven goals in six matches, including a hat-trick against Newcastle.
Mason Mount was the only player to hit double figures in the league for Chelsea last season, and the Blues could benefit from some more goals from the middle of the park.
Chukwuemeka may fancy his chances of providing them.
Can he break into Tuchel’s starting XI?
Chelsea are hardly short of options in central midfield.
Tuchel can already call upon World Cup and European Championship winners in the shape of N’Golo Kante and Jorginho, respectively, while Mateo Kovacic was arguably the club’s best performing midfielder in 2021-22.
Throw Ruben Loftus-Cheek and the returning Conor Gallagher into the mix and it’s clear that competition for places will be fierce this season.
Thomas Tuchel now needs to decide how to bed Chukwuemeka into his Chelsea squad
Yet Kante and Jorginho are both into their thirties now, and the Frenchman has battled with injuries in recent campaigns, plus Kovacic and Loftus-Cheek have had their fair share of fitness setbacks over the years.
This indicates that Chelsea may need some fresh impetus in midfield, particularly if they are to compete on all fronts this season.
Off the back of dazzling over the summer for England Under-19s, Chukwuemeka could be ready to step up and make a major breakthrough at senior level for Tuchel’s men.