Exclusive:Inside Chelsea's Nicolas Jackson: what makes the striker tick from those who watched him in Senegal and Spain

 Nicolas Jackson of Chelsea celebrates after scoring the team's second goal during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea  Nicolas Jackson of Chelsea celebrates after scoring the team's second goal during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea
Nicolas Jackson of Chelsea celebrates after scoring the team's second goal during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea | Getty Images
This is the story of Nicolas Jackson's journey from Ziguinchor, Senegal, to Stamford Bridge

Nicolas Jackson attracted the most fans as Senegal trained in Diamniadio for their double World Cup qualifier against South Sudan and Togo.

Playing for Chelsea brings its own added pressure, but there is also fame and attention that comes with it, especially in Africa. Chelsea's pull was evident as the young Jackson signed autographs alongside former Liverpool star man Sadio Mane and fast-developing Tottenham midfielder Pape Matar Sarr.

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Jackson's start to life at Chelsea has not been that smooth, but the seven goals including a hat-trick against Tottenham has certainly lifted the pressure. If his start to life in west London has been promising at best- his reaction to dry spells has been nothing short of brilliant.

Six months before joining Chelsea his world came crashing down. Villareal had agreed a life-changing deal with Bournemouth for his services, but he failed the medical and returned to Spain with his head down and confidence shattered.

But his reaction to the setback that brought him nine goals in his last nine games of the season, and sealed a much more lucrative deal with Chelsea, can be traced to his upbringing in Ziguinchor, Senegal.

Born in Banjul, The Gambia, Jackson's family moved to Senegal where he was brought up. "He's always loved football. Like most of the players from here, his nickname was Ziguinchor Neymar but Jackson had spirit, determination and fight," Senegalese journalist Ibrahima Mboup told LondonWorld.

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"He'd stay back and play the whole day if you allowed him and to be honest for him I don't think it was about making it to the very top, they say he just enjoyed doing it. There were academies that would come along but he really didn't get into them until he joined Casa Sport. Diomansy Kamara, who played at Fulham sometime back, was of great help to him."

Jackson would play a few games at Casa Sports, a Senegal Premier League club based in his hometown of Ziguinchor, and there were promises and justified offers from clubs like Porto, Benfica, Orlando Pirates and Sevilla, but Villareal would change his life.

Nicolas Jackson of Villarreal CF celebrates after scoring the team's first goal during the LaLiga Santander match between Villarreal CF and Cadiz Nicolas Jackson of Villarreal CF celebrates after scoring the team's first goal during the LaLiga Santander match between Villarreal CF and Cadiz
Nicolas Jackson of Villarreal CF celebrates after scoring the team's first goal during the LaLiga Santander match between Villarreal CF and Cadiz | Getty Images

The Villareal days

"When he came here I have to admit he was shy and looked raw but there was one thing I observed having covered Villareal all my life, he paid attention and was willing to always improve. I saw him a couple of games with the B team and many people spoke about him so it was quite interesting to keep an eye on him," Javier Sidro, head of Sports at Radio Castellon- Cadena SER, who has covered Villareal all his adult life told Londonworld.com

"He was capable of generating chances and looked really strong but there was work to be done with his finishing.

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"I have to say he went out on loan because he was alternating between the academy and the B team but when he went out on loan at Mirandes and things didn't quite work out for him, I think he understood that if he didn't make the most of the opportunity here he might have to return back to Senegal.

"To be fair Unai Emery was really good with him and gave him his debut at Real Betis but weeks before the debut he had been preparing him as he liked his movement and knew he was a great talent."

Fear can be a good thing sometimes, and after his debut a few things went wrong, he had a couple of injuries and Unai Emery left the club for Aston Villa.

Then the lack of continuity and Bournemouth's desperation to avoid the drop saw them throw £25million at Villareal for Jackson, as they looked for a striker that could help them stay in the Premier League.

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As fate would have it, a hamstring injury which Villareal said would last only two weeks, but Bournemouth found to be deeper and would require at least six weeks to repair meant he failed his medical. His loss would be Antoine Semenyo's gain.

The deal collapsed and Jackson had to return to the Spanish club. The player was down but Villareal also thought they had missed out on £25million.

The next five months though would prove even much more exciting. "He exploded not instantly, but gradually and when he started he was really unstoppable," Javier Sidro added.

Quique Setién had replaced Unai Emery and just like his predecessor, he'd seen something there, a flickering inferno that was generated due to injuries, lack of opportunities and a failed move to the Premier League.

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He'd occasionally speak to Jackson and remind him of his journey and when it did land, the Senegalese forward scored against Athletic Bilbao, Cádiz, Atético Madrid, Espanyol, Celta Vigo, and Valencia. He scored a total of 12 goals to end the season on a high, grabbing two assists against Girona on the way.

Nicolas Jackson of Chelsea celebrates with teammates Reece James (L) and Moises Caicedo of Chelsea after scoring the team's second goal  during the Premier League matchNicolas Jackson of Chelsea celebrates with teammates Reece James (L) and Moises Caicedo of Chelsea after scoring the team's second goal  during the Premier League match
Nicolas Jackson of Chelsea celebrates with teammates Reece James (L) and Moises Caicedo of Chelsea after scoring the team's second goal during the Premier League match | Getty Images

The Chelsea start

"At Villareal, he was really good in that final turn and he will be great at Chelsea. He is a good guy and he's a good player. He just needs to continue working hard and knowing that he has to score goals," ex-Chelsea and Newcastle striker Demba Ba told LondonWorld.

Jackson's infectious character behind the scenes was evident when he recovered from a slow start to score his first goal against Luton Town.

Then he scored against Brighton to earn Chelsea progression to the next round of the Carabao Cup. Then came off the bench to score against Burnley, then a hat-trick against Tottenham and another goal against Manchester City in the 4-4 thriller at Stamford Bridge before the international break. He's still looking forward to his first Senegal goal.

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There is no doubt that his first Premier League goal against Luton meant the world to him. Every member of the Chelsea team except Robert Sanchez in goal congratulated him, the relief, excitement and joy on his face that night at the Bridge as he kneeled pointed to the sky before grabbing the Chelsea badge will remain with him forever.

But he's had criticism, Alan Shearer isolated him during Match of the Day as Chelsea struggled against Villa but once again since then, he's responded with more electric performances and the goals have started to come.

Many forget that it took the great Didier Drogba a while to get going, and Jackson, throughout his career, has shown he has more than what it takes to be the main man at one of the world's best clubs.

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