Nicolas Jackson of Villarreal CF during La Liga match between Villarreal CF and Sevilla FC at La Ceramica Stadium on May 8, 2022.

All you need to know about ‘next Neymar’ Chelsea target Nicolas Jackson

Chelsea show no signs of slowing down in the transfer market and have turned to Villarreal forward Nicolas Jackson in a bid to solve their continual woes at centre forward.

The Blues, now under the ownership of a consortium led by Todd Boehly, ushered in a chaotic new era last season filled with endless signings and ridiculous sums of money spent, only for two managers to be sacked in the same season and Chelsea to finish in 12th.

But it’s all change once again this summer, with Mauricio Pochettino in the dugout for next season and the club keen to clear the decks to give him the best chance of thriving. And while literally anything is an improvement on last season, finding a way to get Chelsea firing in front of goal again will be key. Jackson is clearly thought of as one of the solutions to that problem, with his signing expected to go through imminently. Here’s all you need to know about him.

Who is Nicolas Jackson?

Born in The Gambia, Jackson has just turned 22 and represents Senegal at international level, earning full international honours for the first time in 2022.

He plied his trade at Senegalese outfit Casa Sports in his youth, before heading to Villarreal’s academy in September 2019. It’s taken him a bit of time to get to grips with European football in the time since, spending the last of his teenage years in Villarreal’s Juvenil A setup, before being sent out on loan to Segunda Division side CD Mirandes after about a year in Spain.

But the early signs wre promising. Jackson racked up seven assists during his first year in Spain before COVID hit, eventually winning the youth championship and setting himself up nicely for a loan spell in a bid to get some senior football under his belt. That loan to Mirandes didn’t quite go to plan, with injuries limiting to just seven starts during his time at the club. He left at the end of a difficult season with one goal and one assist to his name, with the stats not telling the full story.

Jackson was clearly very talented and had earned the trust of his head coach, but was rough around the edges and pegged back by injuries.

That talented showed upon returning to Villarreal. Thrown into their B-team for the 2021-22 season, Jackson stole the show with his silky dribbling and clinical edge, firing seven goals as the B-team won promotion back to Spain’s second tier.

Since then, it’s been mostly nothing but positives for the Senegal international. Jackson forced his way into the first-team and weighed in with 18 La Liga goal contributions in 2022-23. In fact, his early season form was so good that he was on the cusp of a £22.5m move to Bournemouth in January, only for a hamstring issue to rear its head in the medical and result in the deal collapsing.

tamford Bridge Chelsea owner Todd Boehly during the Champions League match at Stamford Bridge, London.

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Nicolas Jackson’s style of play

When he first burst onto the scene, Jackson was compared to Brazilian icon Neymar for his mazy dribbling skills and the way he carried the ball in attacking areas.

Until his first-team break through this season, the 22-year-old cut a versatile profile. Jackson would regularly occupy a position on either flank, and in his teen  years, operate behind the striker.

What is mightily impressive, though, is how Jackson remains so agile and technically proficient despite standing at around 6’2. He takes up tight positions and can flick the ball around markers in nauseatingly quick fashion, like something you’d see an annoyingly nimble midfield maestro do, who stands at no taller than 5’8.

This season has seen Jackson occupy a more traditional number nine role for the most part, staying between the goalposts but still making the most of key attributes such as his agility, flair and burst of pace. When watching his highlights, it becomes rather mesmerising seeing how the ball seems to cling to his feet like a t-shirt on a hot day.

Chelsea are in a serious identity crisis right now. They’ve tried everything from Werner, to Havertz, to Lukaku, to Havertz, to Aubameyang, back to Havertz in the past season or two, with none of them ever really nailing down the striker spot as their own. It’s hard to compare Jackson to anything involving last season, though, not just because Chelsea were that bad, but because Pochettino will undoubtedly introduce a new style of play.

And considering how he managed to turn a young Harry Kane into one of the most ruthless forwards in the Premier League, it’s rather exciting to think of what he could achieve with Jackson, who arrives with a number of seriously exciting qualities. Expect the lad to draw fouls galore.

What’s been said

With a transfer saga looming following a successful season, Jackson’s agent spoke on summer prospects not too long ago.

“He would have liked to join the Premier League, but it did not happen,” Said Diomansy Kamara to WiwSport, adding: “And then he went back to work and exploded even more at Villarreal.”

Villarreal CEO Roig Negueroles has spoken on the deal potentially taking him to Stamford Bridge, tellling AS: “Jackson is a player with great potential, and he may be worth £70m in the future.”

But unfortunately for The Yellow Submarine, Chelsea look set to tie up a deal for Jackson for just £30m due to a release clause: “Now this is the contract that he has and the clause that he has, and I don’t think that amounts like that should be underestimated.”

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