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It is just over a year ago since Nahki Wells introduced himself to a British T.V audience watching on as Bradford City, then of League Two, overcame Aston Villa of the Premier League to reach the final of the League Cup. Wells, who also played against Arsenal in the previous round, scored Bradford’s first in the 3-1 win, a confident finish past Villa goalkeeper Shay Given to send the Bantams on their way to Wembley, 1 of the 26 goals he contributed to a historic season for the Yorkshire club.
Although the miraculous cup run came to a ruthless end in the 5-0 defeat to Swansea (a game Wells did not play), the striker returned to Wembley in May for the League Two play-off final, again scoring as Bradford beat Northampton to climb into League One. It meant he surpassed the 25 goal target he set himself at the beginning of the campaign and finally, after a slow start to his professional career, he was able to test himself at a higher level. Fast forward a year since the defeat of Villa and he is closing in on taking another step up, this time to the Championship with Huddersfield Town as the Terriers are set to complete a deal, believed to be in the region of £1.2 million, for the Bermudan attacker.
Wells was born and raised in the British colony of Bermuda, joining the top-flight club Dandy Town at the age of 12. He impressed through all age levels and, at the age of 18, he was given his first team debut in the 2009/10 season. It was a prolific first year as Wells hit 20 goals in 18 games to secure a sixth Premier Division title for Dandy Town and to earn a move to Bermuda Hogges, a team in the fourth tier of the American soccer pyramid.
Though his appearances for Hogges were limited, scoring just 2 goals in 9 matches, his displays began to earn glowing reports from the Island’s media, ultimately sparking interest from overseas and initially, Dutch club Ajax. A lifetime friend of Wells, coach Scott Morton, recalls their interest, saying
“They couldn’t believe his speed and skill. He was tremendous out there and outplayed their youth team by leaps and bounds. Ajax wanted him to sign there and then but it was a big stretch for his parents to let him go.”
Ipswich Town also became interested, though homesickness saw him turn down a contract after impressing in a trial. It was reported that homesickness was a huge issue for the young striker, Horton reflected on the great support he received from his family at the time.“What has also impressed me is the support of his parents, his friends and extended family. You need that support network to adapt and he has done that.”
After taking advice from Shaun Goater, by far Bermuda’s greatest footballing export, Wells finally decided to leave for England to further his career, joining the International Academic and Soccer Academy in Leeds. A short spell at non-league Eccleshill United followed before he was picked up by Carlisle United after a successful trial, signing for the Cumbrians in the January transfer window of 2011. It didn’t go well as the striker was limited to just three substitute appearances and in May, manager Greg Abbott decided not to renew his contract, leaving him free to join Bradford City in the summer after a trial.
Wells went straight into the side under manager Phil Parkinson but had to wait until November, having scored twice by then, to make his first start in a match against Rotherham. It was an excellent strike against Rochdale in the FA Cup that convinced Parkinson he was worthy of a sustained place in the side and he duly repaid his faith by turning in a series of lively displays as he finished the 2011/12 season with a 12 goal return from 37 appearances, including an excellent hat-trick away at Northampton which gave a huge glimpse at the size of his potential. Former Bradford City player Dean Windass urged him not to leave the club whilst comparisons to Jermain Defoe were heard before inevitable rumours of a departure surfaced. Despite slow-moving talks on a new contract fuelling fears Wells could have left Valley Parade, he eventually signed a new 3 year deal with the club, to widespread relief, in September 2012.
This all gave way to a fruitful season in which he forged a highly prolific partnership with James Hanson, a throwback to the conventional “little and large” duos that were prevalent in recent history. Hanson’s strength and aerial prowess complimented Wells’s pace and movement superbly and together they notched 41 goals as Bradford earned promotion. In the cup games with Villa and Arsenal, Wells showcased his frightening pace and courage, possibly a nod to his modest upbringing as he refused to be overwhelmed by the Premier League defences, instead asserting himself on proceedings with the quick feet and sharp movement which terrorised Thomas Vermaelen of Arsenal in the quarter final. “As funny as it sounds, I feel so much more comfortable playing against PremierLeague sides than League Two teams “ said Wells, “Premier League teams allow you to have the ball and, if you have the ability, you can affect them, especially with pace and skill.” Of the latter traits, the Bermudan has them in abundance.
Wells’s game is not all based on sheer pace however, but a shrewd intelligence on how to use it correctly, both in running behind defences and creating space for others with clever movement when in-front of them. It is this ability to adapt his all-round game that has seen him pop on the right wing at times, utilising his reading of the game and fine balance to stretch the play and beat his man in wide areas. Simply put, he is a nightmare to mark and a confident, cool finisher to boot.
Last summer it was John Hendrie to advise Wells to stay at Bradford as interest from Peterborough was rebuffed over the summer, Parkinson able to hold onto his pacy striker as he embarked on League One. The partnership with Hanson again prospered, sharing 21 goals, 15 of them from Wells, to date as Bradford sit solidly in mid-table. After winning player of the month for September, journalist Simon Parker described Wells and Hanson as “one of the best partnerships League One has to offer” showing how their understanding and complimentary styles can be effective at a higher level.
A hat-trick against Coventry and 2 vital goals to secure points against Oldham and Leyton Orient showed the striker’s class and although Bradford approached the January transfer window with a bullish determination to keep the 23 year old, it seemed inevitable, considering the striker’s ambition to constantly improve himself, that a move would occur. “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, said Wells. “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 seems, after Bradford knocked back advances from Burnley and an unnamed Premier League club, the Bantams have prioritised financial security and decided to cash in on Wells after Mark Robins and Huddersfield have come in for the Bermudan. Leeds and Middlesborough have also been interested in the prolific striker who leaves Bradford having scored 53 goals since 2011, Huddersfield planning to create a potent partnership with current striker James Vaughan who has hit 12 goals from 19 games so far. There will be little doubt that Wells, given his excellent attitude and dedication to improvement, will be a success in the Championship, his simple game of electrifying pace and cool, assured finishing promises to be a rewarding formula for Huddersfield and a discernible concern for Championship defences.