Caribbeans In Europe: Nahki Wells (Part 2)

Part 2 of Wells’ story includes talk on his current club Bradford City, League Cup achievement, the tragic loss of a close friend and the international scene…

Picture credit for this article’s featured image: Sports Mole.

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Nahki Wells. (pic credit: Keyword Suggestions)

Transfer to Bradford

No-one would have predicted Wells to make such an impact at Bradford in such a short amount of time. Signed on a one-year deal in June 2011, there was scepticism amongst fans doubting if this free agent, who had only been acquired following a trial along with four other players, would be able to make a mark. Wells’ first strike in a convincing victory over Barnet was telling.

He followed it up with an audacious piledriver against Rochdale in the FA Cup. Both teams had cancelled each other out for much of the tie and it would have to take a moment of magic to determine the outcome. Wells picked the ball up in midfield, strode forward and unleashed an absolute screamer into the top corner with just a matter of minutes to go. It gave Bradford the win and was sufficient enough for manager Phil Parkinson to start featuring Wells more often.

There was some scepticism amongst fans doubting if Wells would be able to make a mark [at Bradford]

Ever since that strike Wells has continued to grow and grow. He blossomed that season and by the end of March, former Bantams centre-forward Dean Windass couldn’t stop heaping praise on him. Windass was urging Wells to stay put, already worried a potential buyer was sniffing around. Lightbourne, meanwhile, compared him to Jermaine Defoe.

He finished the 2011-12 campaign having netted 12 times in just over 30 appearances. With such a bright first season under his belt, Parkinson and the board were eager to secure a new, longer contract with Wells and in September 2012 a new three-year deal was signed. This was a smart move by both parties as a move to a more elite club would have been too soon.

The forward continued to score goals and formed a lethal partnership with James Hanson, who also spent time at Eccleshill United when he was younger. Hanson is a robust target man and his hold-up skills work a treat with Wells’ speed and ability to run in behind the defence.

Fellow compatriot Lightbourne compared the striker to England goal-getter Jermaine Defoe

League Cup Final appearance & tragic death of Tumani Steede

But in the midst of a solid domestic season, Bradford were also excelling in the League Cup. In December they hosted Arsenal in the quarter-final following a penalty shoot-out win against Wigan in the previous round. They were written off as soon as the draw was made. Premier League heavyweights against League Two minnows? The former were to walk all over them, right? Not quite.

Bradford were quicker to every ball, played with passion and pressed high. Arsenal looked startled and conceded with 20 minutes not even on the clock yet. Wells was deployed on the right wing. Fleet-footed, intuitive and not short on self esteem – he ran riot against the Gunners backline. It was a courageous performance, with the Bantams going on to clinch a spot in the semi-final courtesy of another close, dramatic penalty-shoot out victory.

January was a significant time for club and player. Several clubs were reportedly chasing Wells’ signature but Parkinson and the board rightfully remained stern and dismissed any reports linking their star asset with a move away. Early that month, Bradford had the small matter of a two-legged cup semi-final to contest. Aston Villa, another Premier League opponent, were the team to beat. The 3-1 first leg win at Valley Parade was especially important to Wells for two reasons, though.

Deployed wide right, Wells ran riot against Arsenal’s defence in the quarter-final cup victory

One of his closest friends and fellow compatriot Tumani Steede had tragically died in a motorbike accident last summer. Steede represented Bermuda at international level. They had a tight friendship and he found out from Steede’s cousin through phone call. Wells showed a T-shirt underneath his jersey after scoring the opener with a fine shot, entitled ‘RIP Tumani Steede’ (see above). It was an emotional moment. “It is difficult to describe the sense of loss, because we were such good mates. We were both so competitive and we had the greatest rivalry, always trying to outdo each other on the pitch,” said Wells. He continued: “At least I was able to attend the funeral in Bermuda and spend a couple of days with his family and friends. That helped.”

The surprising but deserved first-leg result was followed up with a tight 2-1 defeat at Villa Park. But aggregate score meant Parkinson’s troops went though to the final for the first time in their history. The team lost, and heavily, to Swansea but Wells became the first player from Bermuda to appear in an English major cup final (see below). A feat not matched by Goater or Lightbourne.

Everyone on the island tuned in that weekend to watch their most prized export in action. As it goes, he saw very little of the ball and the result was never in doubt. But the support he got all throughout Bradford’s admirable cup journey – with the dream of strutting his stuff at Wembley at the end of it achieved – was commendable. The No.27 went on to speak of how easier he found it facing top tier teams due to their style of play: “As funny as it sounds, I feel so much more comfortable playing against Premier
League sides than League Two teams. Premier League teams allow you
to have the ball and, if you have the ability, you can affect them, especially
with pace and skill.”

He found out about Steede’s death through phone call when alone in Bradford, it was an emotional moment

But there is a glowing optimism about Wells. Not only does he have the talent but he has he ambition to match. He is never satisfied with his performances, always strides to improve, trains had and he knows it will pay off. “Hopefully people look at me as someone who is ­destined for greatness because I know I am. I’m the only one who can hold myself back. If I really want it, I have the capability of reaching those goals. My dream is to play at the highest level. If given the opportunity, I have no doubts that I can do it.”

It will be almost impossible for Bradford to keep hold of the striker. He’s still only young, his price tag is rising with each and every game and with the media hyperbole surrounding him locally and internationally it’s difficult to see him at Valley Parade for the foreseeable future. Wells has over 20 goals so far this season. Confidence is essential for a striker and he appears to have it in abundance. Composed, cool in front of goal and a tenacious character – Wells is not only Bermuda’s most promising player but indeed the English league’s, too.

Bradford fans have really taken to him, as well. His high work rate and propensity to chase lost causes are two important ingredients in his relationship with the fans. If he does leave, he’ll exit amicably and will be sorely missed. Not just his goals but all-round running and energy. But while there is all this media speculation, Wells is well aware he must keep his feet firmly on the ground:  “I was always a Man United fan as a kid and Wayne Rooney has always been my favourite player. If I’m lucky enough to play against him or with him one day, that would be great. I’m not being cocky or big headed. I just know how hard the opportunity is to come by and how quickly it can go.” Dreams of playing on the same pitch as Rooney? Now that would be something special.

It’ll be tough for Bradford to keep hold of Wells. Young, heavy-priced and has the talent to match his ambition

Representing Bermuda at international level

Wells made his international debut in 2007 and in the space of six years, has only made six official appearances in the red shirt of Bermuda. This isn’t because he isn’t played, but simply because of a complete lack of fixtures. He was the key component in the Gombey Warriors’ recent World Cup qualifiers. Placed in Group B in the second round, Devarr Boyles’ men finished a respectable 3rd place with a total of 10 points to their name. They performed a whole lot better than a lacklustre Barbados, who ended up with 0 points.

Wells has only ever netted twice for his country and both came in qualifying. The first was a 63rd finish against Trinidad & Tobago, the other a breath-taking long-distance effort against Barbados just after half-time. It was converted infront of a 1000 attendance at the Bermuda National Stadium and even had the opposition coaching team up on their feet.

Bermuda were never expected to progress past that stage. The national side (see below) doesn’t have enough depth, organisation or hunger to push on. Wells is relied upon for goals and creating chances. Apart from fellow strikers Khano Smith – who was on target three times during qualifying – and 26-year-old Antwan Russell, there is a severe lack of quality in the side.

The key component in Bermuda’s recent WC Qualifiers; the team finished 3rd in a tricky Group B

Sports Minister Glenn Blakeney described Wells as “one of Bermuda’s most promising players, with an exceptionally bright future.” He provides the island with most of its coverage and without him – plus Goater and Lightbourne – not half as many people will have heard of the tiny Caribbean island.

From little-known Dandy Town to the bigger Bradford City, it’s been one heck of a journey. A journey that lives on.

By Nathan Carr

To see Part 1, click here. We hope you have enjoyed reading Wells’ story as much as we have enjoyed compiling it. Until next time, follow us on Twitter @caribbeanftbl

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