A LOTTA BOT­TLE BUT NAKHI DIDN’T ASK BOSS FOR PINT

The Football League Paper - - BIG INTERVIEW - By Chris Dunlavy

THERE’S a story knock­ing around on the in­ter­net about the day in 2011 when Nakhi Wells, aged 20, j oined Carlisle United.

It goes like this. Wells, the naïve young kid from Ber­muda, was handed the keys to a club flat by United boss Greg Ab­bott, who said:“If you need any­thing, give me a call”.

A few hours later, Ab­bott’s phone rings and it’s Wells, ask­ing if the boss can buy him a bot­tle of milk from Asda. Cue ex­ple­tives.

It’s a great yarn, and one that neatly fits our pre­con­cep­tions about daft young play­ers.There’s just one prob­lem – it isn’t true.

“Na, that’s ab­so­lute rub­bish,” says Wells, who this month be­came Hud­der­s­field Town’s record sign­ing for a fee that could top £2m.

“I might have asked if he was pass­ing a gro­cery store or some­thing like that. I think he prob­a­bly made a joke out of it, but it’s just ban­ter that’s grown arms and legs. The truth is, I didn’t even have Greg’s num­ber.”

It is also true that Wells doesn’t fit the Caribbean stereo­type. Am­bi­tious, ar­tic­u­late and fe­ro­ciously driven, he paid his own pas­sage to Eng­land and slogged on through three false dawns – two as a teenager – to chisel out a ca­reer in the game.

Pace

The first was at Ajax, when Wells was just 15. Out in Hol­land on a tour with lo­cal team Dandy Town, the Dutch gi­ants were so im­pressed with his fear­some pace that they of­fered a con­tract on the spot. Lack­ing per­mis­sion from his par­ents, the move never hap­pened.

Then, a cou­ple of days af­ter turn­ing 17, he was in­vited to Ip­swich Town, but later turned down an ex­tended trial.

“I was a bit ner­vous in my trial game and didn’t do great,” he ex­plains. “Af­ter a few weeks they wanted me to stay on for a closer look but at that age I was home­sick and be­ing away from all my friends and fam­ily was a big step. I just wanted to go home.

“As soon as I stepped off the plane, I knew I’d made a bad de­ci­sions. I re­gret­ted it at the time, but I like to think that ev­ery­thing hap­pens for a rea­son.When I got the op­por­tu­nity again, I didn’t want to have any re­grets.”

Wells later paid to join the Rich­mond Aca­demic and In­ter­na­tional Soc­cer Academy (RAISA) in Leeds, a pro­gramme of­fer­ing ta­lented sports­men the chance to play against pro­fes­sional youth sides while also study­ing for a de­gree. In Wells’s case, it was busi­ness. “I en­joyed study­ing and I en­joyed uni life,” says Wells, who left af­ter just six months to join Carlisle. “But my main fo­cus was al­ways the foot­ball.”

At RAISA, he was men­tored by for­mer Brad­ford player Mark El­lis, who re­calls his per­fect at­ti­tude.

“He never made any ex­cuses, al­ways lov­ing to play what­ever game RIASA was play­ing in,” said El­lis. “Be it a top level show­case game or a reg­u­lar league game, ev­ery sin­gle game mat­tered to him. That is when I knew he would make it.” So it was that El­lis tipped off Ab­bott, a for­mer team-mate, and Wells ended up at Carlisle. This time, he came through the trial but left af­ter play­ing just three games in six frus­trat­ing months.

Then came Brad­ford. A patchy first sea­son in 201112 was fol­lowed by 26 goals in 54 games as Wells blasted the Ban­tams out of League Two and all the way to the League Cup fi­nal at Wem­b­ley. And the striker is in no doubt who to credit with his blos­som­ing as a first-class striker.

“Ob­vi­ously I’m the

player, so I get the recog­ni­tion,” he says. "But the way Phil Parkin­son broke me in to the English game was bril­liant.

Bumpy

"To be hon­est, my first sea­son at Brad­ford wasn’t the eas­i­est. I’d come from Carlisle, I was the young kid who hadn’t proven him­self. Brad­ford were strug­gling a bit. I had to make do with a few sub ap­pear­ances and things like that. It was a bumpy start.

"But the longer the sea­son went on the more I got in­volved and the more I felt part of team. Brad­ford took up the op­tion they had on my con-tract and Phil said: ‘We want you to be the lead­ing goal-scorer in the league’.

“To have some­one so to­tally con­fi­dent in me was just what I needed. I was a young lad, and he made me feel im­por­tant. He had a lot of faith that if he put me on the pitch, I would score goals. That’s what I did and it was a great sea­son.

“It’s funny. When Phil was start­ing me one game, drop­ping me the next, tak­ing me off ten min­utes af­ter half time, it was frus­trat­ing. But look­ing back, he broke me in very wisely and he de­serves a lot of credit for what I’ve achieved in my ca­reer.”

It’s fair to say, then, that Wells’ ex­plo­sion of tal­ent is a re­sult of baby steps and plenty of wrong turns. So when the chance came to leave Brad­ford, he re­jected money­bags QPR in favour of Hud­der­s­field.

“I didn’t want to jump too far ahead too soon,” says Wells, whose two in three games for the Ter­ri­ers makes it 17 this sea­son.

“I’m still a young man, I’m still learn­ing. You have to re­mem­ber, I missed out on a lot of what most pros have – learn­ing at academy level, play­ing for age group teams. So I’m still try­ing to play catch up in a way.

“That’s why I stayed in the sum­mer – I wanted to prove to my­self I was good enough for League One. Now I have (he scored 15 goals in 19 starts), it seemed the per­fect time to move, and Hud­der­s­field was the per­fect club.

“They were 14th in the Cham­pi­onship and didn’t have a mas­sive squad. It wasn’t about go­ing to the big­gest club or the one that of­fered the most money. It was the one that would help me play and im­prove. And Hud­der­s­field was 100 per cent the right club for that.”

GO­ING UP: Nahki Wells scores at Wem­b­ley in the

3-0 play-off fi­nal vic­tory against Northamp­ton

PIC­TURE: Me­dia Im­age Ltd

PLEDGE: Parkin­son SIT­TING PRETTY: Wells cel­e­brates a late win­ner on his de­but for Hud­der­s­field against Mill­wall HERO: Shaun Goater

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