THERE’S a story knocking around on the internet about the day in 2011 when Nahki Wells, aged 20, joined Carlisle United.
It goes like this. Wells, the naïve young kid from Bermuda, was handed the keys to a club flat by United boss Greg Abbott, who said: “If you need anything, give me a call”.
A few hours later, Abbott’s phone rings and it’s Wells, asking if the boss can buy him a bottle of milk from Asda. Cue expletives. It’s a great yarn, and one that neatly fits our preconceptions about daft young players.
There’s just one problem – it isn’t true. “Na, that’s absolute rubbish,” says Wells, who this month became Huddersfield Town’s record signing for a fee that could top £2m.
“I might have asked if he was passing a grocery store or something like that. I think he probably made a joke out of it, but it’s just banter that’s grown arms and legs. The truth is, I didn’t even have Greg’s number.”
It is also true that Wells doesn’t fit the Caribbean stereotype. Ambitious, articulate and ferociously driven, he paid his own passage to England and slogged on through three false dawns – two as a teenager – to chisel out a career in the game.
The first was at Ajax, when Wells was just 15. Out in Holland on a tour with local team Dandy Town, the Dutch giants were so impressed with his fearsome pace that they offered a contract on the spot.
Lacking permission from his parents, the move never happened. Then, a couple of days after turning 17, he was invited to Ipswich Town, but later turned down an extended trial.
“I was a bit nervous in my trial game and didn’t do great,” he explains. “After a few weeks they wanted me to stay on for a closer look but at that age I was homesick and being away from all my friends and family was a big step. I just wanted to go home.
“As soon as I stepped off the plane, I knew I’d made a bad decision. I regretted it at the time, but I like to think that everything happens for a reason. When I got the opportunity again, I didn’t want to have any regrets.”
Wells later paid to join the Richmond Academic and International Soccer Academy (RAISA) in Leeds, a programme offering talented sportsmen the chance to play against professional youth sides while also studying for a degree.
In Wells’s case, it was business. “I enjoyed studying and I enjoyed uni life,” says Wells, who left after just six months to join Carlisle. “But my main focus was always the football.”
At RAISA, he was mentored by former Bradford player Mark Ellis, who recalls his perfect attitude. “He never made any excuses, always loving to play whatever game RIASA was playing in,” said Ellis.
“Be it a top level showcase game or a regular league game, every single game mattered to him. That is when I knew he would make it.”
So it was that Ellis tipped off Abbott, a former team-mate, and Wells ended up at Carlisle. This time, he came through the trial but left after playing just three games in six frustrat- ing months.
Then came Bradford. A patchy first season in 2011- 12 was followed by 26 goals in 54 games as Wells blasted the Bantams out of League Two and all the way to the League Cup final at Wembley.
And the striker is in no doubt who to credit with his blossoming as a first-class striker.
“Obviously I’m theplayer, so I get the recognition,” he says. “But the way Phil Parkinson broke me in to the English game was brilliant.
“To be honest, my first season at Bradford wasn’t the easiest. I’d come from Carlisle, I was the young kid who hadn’t proven himself. Bradford were struggling a bit. I had to make do with a few sub appearances and things like that. It was a bumpy start.
“But the longer the season went on, the more I got involved and the more I felt part of team. Bradford took up the option they had on my contract and Phil said: ‘We want you to be the leading goal-scorer in the league’.
“To have someone so totally confident in me was just what I needed. I was a young lad, and he made me feel important. He had a lot of faith that if he put me on the pitch, I would score goals. That’s what I did and it was a great season.
“It’s funny. When Phil was starting me one game, dropping me the next, taking me off ten minutes after half time, it was frustrating. But looking back, he broke me in very wisely and he deserves a lot of credit for what I’ve achieved in my career.”
It’s fair to say, then, that Wells’ explosion of talent is a result of baby steps and plenty of wrong turns. So when the chance came to leave Bradford, he rejected moneybags QPR in favour of Huddersfield.
“I didn’t want to jump too far ahead too soon,” says Wells, whose two in three games for the Terriers makes it 17 this season.
“I’m still a young man, I’m still learning. You have to remember, I missed out on a lot of what most pros have – learning at academy level, playing for age group teams. So I’m still trying to play catch up in a way.
“That’s why I stayed in the summer – I wanted to prove to myself I was good enough for League One. Now I have (he scored 15 goals in 19 starts), it seemed the perfect time to move, and Huddersfield was the perfect club.
“They were 14th in the Championship and didn’t have a massive squad. It wasn’t about going to the biggest club or the one that offered the most money. It was the one that would help me play and improve. And Huddersfield was 100 per cent the right club for that.”