Explaining the ugly row between Nwakali Kelechi and Spanish club Huesca

Clubs and players have often encountered disagreements over a variety of issues like details over contracts, players’ lifestyle choices etc. The latter issue has been a problem for clubs since the playing days of Diego Maradona when they (Barcelona, Napoli etc.) wanted to have a say in how he carried himself off the pitch. But football clubs and players have been able to find a way to coexist with such minor disagreements.

Of late, the primary area of tension has been when clubs interfere in a player’s international career by sometimes not allowing a player to leave on international duty. In the past, German giants Bayern Munich have attempted to stop David Alaba (Austria) and Lucas Hernandez (France) from leaving for international duty, to avoid any injuries from these games.

This year’s African Cup of Nations caused an uproar amongst various European clubs as they did not want to let go of players during a crucial period in their season. Current AFCON champions Senegal accused Premier League side, Watford, to have blocked the arrival of Ismaila Sarr for the tournament and had to appeal to higher footballing authorities to ensure the player’s participation in the tournament. 

On Wednesday, a similar yet much graver situation surrounding the AFCON came to light as a Nigerian player took to Twitter to open up about the recent atrocious behaviour displayed by his La Liga 2 club, SDHuesca.

The Nigerian revealed in a statement in the wake of the club’s termination of his contract that since the turn of the year, club officials have been mentally harassing the player to prevent his international travel and to ensure he signs a new contract.

“…the club’s Sporting Director, Ruben Garcia, put extreme pressure on me not to go to AFCON due to it ‘not being an important tournament’. He told me that if I go to AFCON I will not play for Huesca again. This behaviour and the lack of respect shown to my country Nigeria was truly breaking and it was just the latest example of the club attempting to bully me into getting their own way,” said Nwakali.

The Nigerian international went on to talk about the club’s “abuse of power” in order to bully the player into signing a new contract.

“These tactics have included paying me late on numerous occasions. The breakdown in negotiations came when my mother fell ill and I asked Ruben for the wages the club already owed me in order to pay for my mother’s hospital bill and treatment. Ruben Garcia responded to my request by saying ‘Sign this new contract and we will pay what’s owed tonight’,” recounted the Nigerian international.

As per the player, Garcia went on to pressure Nwakali to leave the club on the last day of the January transfer window by threatening to not make the due payments if his contract was not terminated.

But as the player stood his ground and fended off a forced move to another La Liga 2 club, Garcia and the club’s lawyers opened disciplinary proceedings against the player and have been forcing the 23-year-old to train on his own and have been preventing him from using the training facilities at the club.

The accounts of Nwakali have shocked the footballing community as it recounts a lived experience of one person’s fight against an entire institution.

In the aftermath of the ex-Arsenal man’s revelations, Huesca have issued an official statement where they questioned the veracity of the player’s serious allegations.

“In relation to the statements made by Kelechi Nwakali today after the early termination of the contract that linked him with SD Huesca, the club wishes to express its total rejection of their lack of veracity, all with the total conviction that the club has acted at all times with the utmost respect for the player. Although, and given the seriousness of some of the statements made in the statement, this club reserves the exercise of any actions it deems appropriate in defense of its legitimate rights and interests,” stated the Spanish club’s official press release on Twitter.

With this issue now having become a public dispute between a player and his club, Nwakali could be aided by other footballing organizations such as the Court of Arbitration for Sport to support his cause and fight the club’s officials in his search for justice.