From Town to City, a tale of perseverance
Nahki Wells has been on an amazing journey as a professional footballer in the ten years since he played his final game for local club Dandy Town Hornets.
Wells, then 19, helped Town win the Premier Division league title in that 2009-10 season when his 20 goals also earned him the Most Valuable Player award.
In the decade since he left Bermuda with dreams of bigger things, Wells’s reputation as a goalscorer has grown immensely, so much so that he has commanded some £10 million in three transfer deals, even though he is still yet to make an impact on the Premier League.
Wells left Bradford City in 2014 to join Huddersfield Town for a fee of £1.3 million, then moved on to Burnley in 2017 for £5 million.
On Thursday, the striker moved on again for a fee reported to be in the region of £4 million when Bristol City, Shaun Goater’s former club, took him off Burnley’s hands. His first outing for City, if selected to play today, will be against a club he spent the past 18 months on loan, Queens Park Rangers.
It has all happened so fast for the pacy striker, who headed off to England in the summer of 2010 to attend the International Academic and Soccer Academy, a four-year institution that gives students a top-quality academic programme while helping in the pursuit of professional football dreams.
They quickly recognised Wells’s talent there and Mark Ellis, the coaching director, took it a step further by recommending Wells to Carlisle United, who offered him a six-month contract.
“The worst-case scenario for Nahki is that he comes back and finishes his degree and carries on playing at the highest level he can,” Ellis, a former professional, told The Royal Gazette at the time. “The door will be kept open to him to continue his studies at the IASA.”
Wells never did return to IASA, despite being released by Carlisle in May 2011. Ellis called it a mistake and suggested that one day Wells would prove manager Geoff Abbott wrong for releasing him. Wells was limited to three appearances as substitute while at Carlisle.
The bad news for Wells came at the same time that Ipswich Town told his Bermuda team-mate, Reggie Lambe, whom they had loaned out to Bristol Rovers, that his services were not needed. Both learnt important lessons for the experience before going on to join other clubs, with Lambe eventually following Wells at Carlisle.
Wells took the Carlisle rejection in stride. “Of course I’m disappointed, I really enjoyed my time at Carlisle and I’m thankful for the opportunity they gave me,” he said.
“But I know I have other options and I’m almost guaranteed [a contract] at another pro club. Sooner or later, I’ll have to decide what path to take and which club to go to.”
A couple of months later, Wells got a break when he joined Bradford City, a League Two club, who had him on trial. Credit to Western Stars Sports Club, Town’s parent club, for helping the deal go through by agreeing to forfeit a compensation fee they would have been entitled to, as their former player was under the age of 24. The fee they would have collected was said to be in the region of $12,000.
Ellis, who by now was acting as Wells’s adviser, praised the Town for their selfless act, which he said was crucial to ensuring the deal went through without a hitch.
“I’m pleased Nahki’s got a contract so soon, and full credit to Dandy Town because without them the move wouldn’t have happened,” Ellis told the Gazette.
Things started to happen for Wells after that as he flourished at Bradford, playing three seasons there and helping them achieve promotion to League One in 2013 when he scored a team-high 26 goals for the Bantams, including the third in the 3-0 win over Northampton Town in the promotion play-off final at Wembley.
That day Wells became the first Bermudian player to play and score at the new Wembley Stadium. Goater played at the old Wembley in 1996 for Rotherham United in the Auto Windscreens final, which Rotherham won against Shrewsbury Town.
Inevitably, Wells’s 26-goal season attracted interest from other clubs during the summer of 2013, with Bradford doing all they could to keep their top marksman, even telling interested clubs that he was not for sale. QPR were one of the clubs showing interest as Wells carried on his early form of the new season by scoring in a club-record eight successive games.
Despite publicly expressing his love for the club and with his partnership up front with James Hanson flourishing, Wells was keeping an open mind about transfer talk.
“I’m contracted to Bradford, I’m happy at Bradford and the club have done a lot for me, but I would never rule out the option of playing at a higher level,” Wells told The Royal Gazette.
“It’s the same for any player ... it’s a no-brainer that if you have the opportunity to kick on in your career then you have to take it.”
Phil Parkinson, the Bradford manager, fought as hard as he could to keep Wells, whose attitude, he said, was first-class, during the transfer speculation.
“The transfer window has now passed and we have managed to keep hold of him, which is a credit to the board,” Parkinson told reporters in September after another impressive win.
“It is also a credit to Nahki because not once has he banged on my door wanting to know about any moves or speculation about him. He has just got on with his job.
“For such a young lad, that is a great credit to him and his family. I have dealt with young players before who have been linked with moves away and it cannot be easy. Nahki’s focus has been top-class.”
Burnley and Huddersfield were among the clubs rumoured to be interested in Wells, two clubs that would eventually get their man. Huddersfield got him first, signing him during the January 2014 transfer window for a fee of £1.3 million and on a 4½ year contract, which made him Bermuda’s first million-pound transfer at age 23.
Dandy Town benefited, too, picking up a compensation of £50,000 (about $83,000) from the transfer fee. In 2½ years at Bradford, Wells scored 53 goals in 112 games.
Like Bradford, Huddersfield could not hold on to their young striker, and knew they would lose him when he turned down the offer of a new contract in the summer of 2016.
Burnley’s offer of £5 million in August 2017 prompted Huddersfield to part with Wells as the player jumped at the chance to join a Premier League club. The Bermudian finished his time at Huddersfield with a total of 49 goals in 153 appearances, becoming the second Bermudian player after Goater to score 100 goals in English football.
Wells saw the move to Burnley and the Premier League as the ideal chance to prove himself at the top level, although things never worked out for him there, as he was sidelined for three months while recovering from ankle surgery he had before the move. In the end he made only ten appearances as a substitute before they loaned him out twice to QPR. Wells enjoyed his time in West London and wanted to stay there permanently, but the club could not match the asking fee and Bristol City announced the signing of the Bermudian on Thursday night, a day before the transfer window closed.
He has signed in time to feature for his new club against QPR at Loftus Road today, with City hoping he can continue his scoring form and add to the 15 goals he has scored already this season for QPR. It could be an emotional farewell for Wells, who scored 24 goals in 72 appearances for the club and was a hit with the fans.
Such is the uncertainty of life as a professional footballer, which Goater knows only too well. He is backing his fellow Bermudian to be a big hit at Ashton Gate where he, himself, spent two seasons, scoring 45 goals in 81 appearances.
Dandy Town will not benefit financially from this latest transfer, but they can always proudly say they produced Bermuda’s first million-pound footballer.
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