An exciting young talent that’s developed through the Aston Villa youth ranks to the point where he’s on the fringes of the first team, Carney Chukwuemeka is making opportunities for himself, through graft and a positive attitude, something we found out about recently when we sat down with the midfielder.

The hype surrounding Carney Chukwuemeka is real; this is a young man that won the Aston Villa academy player of the year award last season – an accolade that doesn’t happen for nothing. Having made his first team debut last season against Tottenham before helping Aston Villa win the FA Youth Cup in May 2021, finishing the tournament as top scorer with seven goals, his rising status has not only garnered positive attention from the playing side, but it’s also seen doors opening away from the pitch, with him recently become a brand ambassador for 11 Degrees.

Following that announcement we caught up with Chukwuemeka to talk about his career so far, the feeling of making his debut and his ongoing motivations, and who he looks up to.

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Signing that pro contract, making your first team debut, winning the FA Youth Cup and being named academy player of the season, it’s been a big couple of years for you – how would you describe it?

It’s crazy. It’s unbelievable to be honest. If you were to have sat with me a couple of years ago and said I would have won all of these things last season, I would have said “no way”. It all started with the first team debut against Spurs and then the home debut against Chelsea. Then the Youth Cup win and that academy player of the season – it was just all amazing and they’re memories I’ll have with me for the rest of my life. 

Things like that don’t just happen, there’s so much graft that goes into getting where you have. Do you ever take a step back and realise that journey you’re on?

When you’re first grafting and working hard, you don’t realise at the start that it can take a while before something positive happens. You have to keep the right mindset and for me, it’s about keeping it in mind that god has a plan for you. I just kept working hard over the years knowing that if I keep doing that, my chance will come. When it just happened and the stars aligned it was amazing. I guess I was a bit relieved to get to that level but so much happiness at the time. 

As an introduction to you – for people who may not know about you – how would you describe yourself on and off the pitch?

On the pitch, I’d say I’m a calm person. In any situation, I’m calm. I like to help my teammates as much as I can. I’d say I’m pretty vocal. I like to think I’m a leader at times as well. Off the pitch, I’d say I’m bubbly and good to be around. I like to make a lot of jokes and have a good time. I’m good company.

What did you have in your headspace and mindset to get yourself into the first team?

I’d say, before every season I’m always setting myself goals and targets. I’ve done things like put my targets on my notes on my phone and saved that picture as my lock screen. Just doing that means that when I wake up in the morning and see that, I’ll look at myself and tell myself, “I’ve got to keep working to get to where I want to go”.

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You have to keep the right mindset and for me, it’s about keeping it in mind that god has a plan for you. I just kept working hard over the years knowing that if I keep doing that, my chance will come."

Naturally there’s lots of highs and lows as well – has it been a ride of mixed emotions along the way? Have you had to grow up fast?

From the under-9s to under-14s, I’d say that was more of an easy time. It’s more about just having fun, there’s not really any lows then. When you get to 15/16 that’s when you start feeling it become more competitive. The jump from the under 23s to the first team is something huge. That was a different level and a new lesson in how to adapt my game. I’d say that change between 23s and the first team is the most noticeable shift I’ve experienced in my career. The tempo, the intensity – you have to think quicker to play quicker. Everything is just different.

When you play that first pass in a first team training session, and you know it’s a good one, does that then tell you, you’ve got it at that level?

I always make sure that the first pass is a good one. That builds me and my confidence for the next one. I’m a big believer in things like that. Set off on the right foot and do the right things to help build your confidence.

When you get to that moment and you’re being told you’re going to make your Premier League debut... just what the hell is that like?

The day before the game the Gaffer had a press conference where he said it would be a good chance to give the youngsters a debut. I didn’t think too much about it. The next day, before the warm up, John Terry came up to me and said “you’ll get on today”. From then on it was in my mind. After that I was ready to show the world what I can do.

I remember getting that feeling of nerves. There were fans in the stadium as well. The Spurs stadium is massive too. I got told I was going to come on at a good time as well. That gave me time to settle my nerves and get prepared and ready. When I took my jacket off and walked towards the touchline I was flying. I was so excited to be there in front of fans. It was incredible.

You say “show the world what you can do”. That’s an incredible thing to say. Do you feel like that’s what you’re put on the planet to do?

I’m aiming for those levels. I want to be the very best I possibly can and I will do all I can to get to the very top.

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Those experiences out on the pitch with the first team – it must make you burn for another chance like that? Has it helped you focus on your goals even more?

Definitely. Every time I play, every time I step out on the pitch, I just want to show what I can do and give my best for everyone. When the game is over, I always feel like I can do more so I’m straight away looking at the next game.

That’s a lot about on the pitch and your mindset – what are you like when you get home from training and you can put football down?

Football is always going around in my head. I’ll be analysing my performance whether that was in training or in a game. I’ll be thinking about the last session, thinking about what I could have done better and I’ll take that into the next session or next game. I’m still always learning and watching others on YouTube for example from other midfielders. Pedri for Spain as an example. What he did in the Euros was really good. I can learn a lot from players like him and legends too – people like Kaka and Zidane – that’s who I’m looking at. So when I get home it’s about resting and recovering and having time to play Playstation, but I’ll always have football on my mind.

How would you describe the fashion tastes that are going around the dressing room right now? Do they suit your tastes?

I’d say I fit in with various tastes. Definitely more of the younger players. My generation has different taste to the older generation. The way the more established players dress just wouldn’t work on me. It’s different, we’re all different. I’d say the way I dress is colourful and vibey.

Where do you pick up inspiration for what to wear? Do you like the idea of putting a look together?

I don’t think of things so much when it comes to day to day and going to training but when it comes to going out, I’ll put a load of things on the bed and start seeing what goes together. I like doing that for the right occasion.

Your relationship with 11 Degrees – do opportunities like this excite you as a chance to express yourself?

Yeah definitely. Things like this open your mind up a little bit. Even doing more interviews, it’s more practice for the future. Modelling clothes and stuff is a fun thing to do. It’s a nice way to spend some time doing something different.

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John McGinn always gets it right. He’s a bit of a joker and he likes to make people laugh, but he always gets the balance right. His attitude is top and he’s given us youngsters a lot of time."

Who else in the game do you look at as someone who is on point when it comes to their approach to the off pitch world?

I’d say Kobe Bryant before he passed. His mentality, the Mamba mentality. Everything about him is so humble and I believe that is why he got so far. I look at what he was like and think, “I can replicate that”. I know I can be humble and keep that mentality that I can always do better. I’d definitely say him.

From Jack Grealish to Tyrone Mings, there’s some strong personalities in the Villa squad. Who gets it right in their approach for you?

John McGinn always gets it right. He’s a bit of a joker and he likes to make people laugh, but he always gets the balance right. His attitude is top and he’s given us youngsters a lot of time. He’s always there to make you feel comfortable but determined at the same time. I’ve got a lot of respect for him.

Looking forward, how do you want this season to look?

I want to be playing regular first team football. Whether it’s at Villa or on loan somewhere, I’m working hard to make my future as bright as possible. I know there’s a lot of work to do but my aims are high. Nationally, I’ve set a target to make my England Under-21 debut. I’d love to get into the World Cup squad but that depends on each season. That England U-21 debut is definitely something I want to achieve.

While he may have been a Blues player,  when you think of International ambitions, Jude Bellingham must be someone you’re looking at as someone who motivates you and shows what can be done?

Me and Jude have known each other for a few years. What he is doing now is inspiring me in a big way to do more. I’m particularly driven by him. I’ve felt how he can drive me and motivate me. I’d love to get into that position so that I can help show the next player what can be done. That’s my goal really; I want to bring all the success I can home to England, to my family and to all who have helped me on my journey so far.

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