Curle explains how a 'dramatic change in attitude' led to Chukwuemeka's rapid rise

Caleb Chukwuemeka was impressive in the second-half on Tuesday.Caleb Chukwuemeka was impressive in the second-half on Tuesday.
Caleb Chukwuemeka was impressive in the second-half on Tuesday.
Teenage striker scored his first senior goal in Saints win

Cobblers boss Keith Curle has explained how an unscheduled return to the youth side followed by a 'dramatic change in attitude' led to Caleb Chukwuemeka's rapid rise into his first-team plans this season.

The 18-year-old striker had not played a single minute for the senior team before the start of the current season but has now featured in five of Town's last eight fixtures across all competitions.

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That culminated in his first goal for the club on Tuesday night when keeping a cool head to impressively find the bottom corner during Cobblers' 5-0 victory over Southampton U23s in the EFL Trophy.

Prior to the season starting, there were reports that Chukwuemeka had turned down a contract offer at the Cobblers and was being eyed up by Aston Villa among others, however Curle was quick to deny those claims.

The young academy player now seems a settled part of the first-team but, as Curle explains here, that only came about after he was given a reality check in pre-season.

"Caleb has now been promoted into the first-team environment and there's nothing better than for him to score goals," said Curle after Tuesday's win. "There's still a lot of things he needs to work on but his attitude has dramatically changed towards taking onboard information.

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"At the start of the season, I made a decision to leave him with the kids because I needed to see that hunger within him that said 'I want to be with the first-team' rather than it just being a given of 'I'm in my last year and now I'll be playing in the first-team'.

"No, if you train with us, you've got to earn it and that's the message that got sent out and I've got to say, the lads taken it onboard. He wants to learn and he's integrated into the group very well.

"Caleb will score goals but it's not just about being a goalscorer because there's more to his game that we want to develop and that will become second nature for him.

"Benny (Ashley-Seal) is another young man that's come in and has had a taste of it but we need to keep that hunger in the young players - don't get too comfortable."

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When Curle told Chukwuemeka that he would be training with the youngsters instead of the first-team, it did not go down well.

"I got more of a reaction out of his father and his agent initially! I think they were more disappointed than Caleb so they came into see me and I had a meeting with them and told them why I made the decision," explained the Town boss.

"I needed to see a reaction from Caleb and I want to see that hunger. Some of the under-23 and under-21 players are fantastic footballers with great ability but as I say, there's no hunger in paradise.

"Sometimes you give young players everything and they lose that desire. They sign for football club and they think they're on the right path but you haven't really got one foot on the ladder towards becoming a professional.

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"Players will get all the spoils or the 'badges' as I call them - the earpods, the fake toilet bags, the expensive trainers - and they have the ability but they don't have the hunger and that's what we want to create here.

"We also want an environment where players can show their hunger. That can be players coming in early, wanting to learn, wanting to develop, wanting to get that skillsets and being the las one on the training pitch.

"There has to be a hunger and a desire to develop and to improve and to get on that pathway so they can get in the team and bring their qualities to the team, whether that's scoring goals, whether that's defending, whether that's crossing etc."

In the end, it was a conversation with Chukwuemeka's father that led to his turnaround and now Curle has high hopes for the teenager.

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He added: "I don't think Caleb's father was pleased when I identified a lack of hunger but he went home and had a word with Caleb and said 'you need to do what the manager wants you to do so make sure you do it'. That's a great reaction and sometimes you need that from your parents and from your support mechanism.

"I think Caleb has got attributes that are akin to players that are playing at Championship and Premier League standard but there's a lot more developing and learning to come in his game.

"There's two sides of the game: in and out of possession and attack-minded players are integral in both elements."

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