Nicholas Jackson: The rise from Casa Sport to Chelsea – At a glance

Chelsea have signed Nicolas Jackson as their new attacking midfielder.The English giants have signed the Senegalese prodigy from Villarreal. Jackson enjoyed a stunning second half of the season with the yellow submarine. Sport News Africa traces the career of a fast-rising star who played for Casa Sports in Senegal.

He arrived in Ziguinchor from Gambia in 2017.The 16-year-old hardly spoke a word of Wolof. But he managed to integrate without any difficulty. “He’s a very humble person.We were always teasing him because he didn’t speak Wolof very well,” recalls Pierre Nzale. But he was never annoyed by our mockery. Today, he’s a benchmark who doesn’t hesitate to rub shoulders with local youngsters when he comes on holiday. It’s so rare to see that these days,” his former team-mate at Casa Sport told Sport News Africa.

The Tilène fans nicknamed him Neymar in just 15 minutes. Nicolas Jackson is taking his first steps in the navétanes.This popular local championship is a virtual must for the region’s young stars.“When he was brought to us, we tried him out the very next day in a friendly match against ASC Stella.The whole neighbourhood was there for his first steps. That’s when the Tilène fans gave him the nickname Neymar. He only played 15 minutes because we just wanted to see him a bit. At first glance, he didn’t look like a footballer (laughs)”, says Safiétou Sagna, captain of the Senegal women’s team and assistant coach of ASC Tilène at the time.

Nicolas Jackson avec l'ASC Tilène
Nicolas Jackson avec l’ASC Tilène

Nicholas Jackson with ASC Tilene

With her diamond, Tilène won the coveted Ziguinchor regional cup in Kabadio and then the departmental phases. The following year, Nicolas Jackson and ASC Tilène did it again, winning the regional stages. He then joined Casa Sports, the region’s top club. “He was always someone who believed in himself.We came from the same neighbourhood in Tilène before we both ended up at Casa Sports.We went to training together and shared the same bed when we were together,” confides Pierre Nzale.

A slightly more difficult debut for Nicolas Jackson “Neymar” at Casa Sport

Nicolas Jackson got his chance in the navétanes thanks to his silky technique and lightness on the ball. After barely a year in Ziguinchor, he was spotted by an associate of Diomansy Kamara.The former Senegal international had just inherited the post of general manager of Casa Sports. As opportunity knocked, his new find was offered to the Green and Whites. When he joined Casa we were in the middle of our preparations in Gambia,” recalls Badara Sarr, coach of Casa Sports at the time.I gave him a one-to-one session because we’d just finished training. I was the only coach to train him at a professional club before he left for Europe.He got off to a tricky start, with a reputation as a whimsical player.Neymar’ was more than just a nickname.“I remember once, after a training session, I warned him that if he didn’t change the way he played, he’d never make it at Casa Sports.He replied: ‘Don’t worry, it’s just a game, you have to enjoy yourself on the pitch’.That’s when I realised just how much he loved the game.He went through some complicated times after a serious injury. But he hung in there and eventually found his place in the team,” recalls Aliou ‘Casa’ Traoré, head of the women’s section.

“He was a diamond in the rough that needed polishing”.
The coach of Casa Sports was convinced that he had a cracker.So he decided to go against certain reservations within the management. “When I took Nicolas Jackson into the squad, not all the managers agreed.They said he was a navétanes player, that he kept the ball too much and that his play was undisciplined.He was a raw talent who needed to be polished so that he could progress athletically. He was weak in that area. Then, tactically, we had to give him the rudiments. He’s someone who loved to carry the ball, who wasn’t under any pressure.He had intrinsic qualities,” admits Badara Sarr.

Criticised by certain managers, he aroused little enthusiasm among fans of the Ziguinchor club. He ended up winning over the stadium crowd at a tournament organised by the club in Ziguinchor with teams from Gambia and Guinea-Bissau.“I remember he was often criticised by the Casa Sports fans. But in that first match, the fans discovered his qualities. He put everyone in agreement that day,” says Badara Sarr.

Jackson the shooting star
From his navétanes debut in 2017 to his transfer to Villarreal in the summer of 2019, Nicolas Jackson is a young man in a hurry. His precocious talent is obvious to those lucky enough to have seen him play in Ziguinchor. I’m not at all surprised to see him at this level because I quickly realised that he was going to become a great player,” confides Coach Badara Sarr.I said to myself that if he is well looked after, he could have a great career.He loved the game, he wasn’t afraid to take the ball and take shots.He was intelligent and adapted very quickly to instructions.He was carefree.

At 17, Jackson impressed the Casa Sports coaching staff.“He was a great dribbler, which is a rare commodity in today’s football.He was very fast.He had power and could play with both feet. His heading was top quality.After all, he’s a 1.87m player.During the physical tests, he had good data, even though we felt he hadn’t trained properly beforehand,” explains Badara Sarr.He adds: “We played him as a number 10, sometimes as a left-sided centre-half, then on the right.He had this versatility (…) He still has things to improve. I’m not surprised to see him repositioned at centre-half either. At one point we had him playing as a centre-forward or support striker.

Nicolas Jackson had everything going for him technically, but mentally he was already focused. The shooting star already believed in his destiny, according to Pierre Nzale, his former team-mate at Casa Sports and neighbour in the Tilène neighbourhood.“He was a determined person who had a goal and did everything in his power to achieve it.On the pitch, nothing could impress him.He was always creating. He was a natural leader through action”.

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