Kelechi Iheanacho: Options for a New Beginning

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His first season with Manchester City did not start on a high as he was only the last on the pecking order, behind more established duo of Kum Aguero and Wilfried Bony. But with Aguero on and off the pitch due to injury and the Ivorian international not lethal enough, City Manager, Manuel Pellegrini, had little choice than to throw Kelechi Iheanacho into the thick of things. However, with the exit of the Chilean tactician and Pep Guardiola’s arrival, the Nigerian place in the substitute bench became limited. The signing of Brazilian striker, Gabriel Jesus, meant the exit door for Iheanacho. With Leicester City and Tottenham hoping to sign him, Kunle Adewale writes that the U-17 gold medalist should consider playing time over financial benefits to put his career back on track 

Iheanacho was once seen as a first-team star in the making but, having developed quickly under Manuel Pellegrini, he found opportunities limited after Pep Guardiola’s arrival. The 20-year-old Nigeria international started just five Premier League matches for Manchester City last season, scoring seven goals in all competitions, having scored double that number in his maiden season at the Etihad Stadium.

Now, he is in search of a new club to revive his career. West Ham was heavily linked to the forward but Leicester moved to the front of the queue, with final details yet to be finalised.

However, Iheanacho’s seemingly imminent £25m move to Leicester City has been thrown into doubt after Tottenham Hotspur entered the race to sign the Nigerian international

A deal between City and The Hammers was agreed but manager Slaven Bilic was quick to pull the plug on the move due to concerns over the youngster’s form.

It remains to be seen if City would sell Iheanacho to Tottenham, who finished above Guardiola’s men last season. A deal with Leicester is seemingly all but done, but Iheanacho’s perceived willingness to move to London when West Ham were interested could prove beneficial to Tottenham, who are able to offer their targets life in the English capital as well as Champions League football.

City’s forgotten man could also be enticed by the prospect of working with Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino. The Argentine has developed a reputation for getting the best out of young talent and could be able to help Iheanacho flourish, with his career in danger of stalling at the Etihad Stadium.

Observers are however of the opinion that a move to Tottenham by Iheanacho could mean another season of sitting on the bench for him considering the large number of attackers at White Hart Lane.

Iheanacho was left out of Manchester City touring party for the International Champions Cup matches in the USA to enable him sort out his future.

His exclusion from the squad specifies that the 20-year-old is on his way out of Etihad Stadium, having been found surplus to requirements in the Citizens’ squad.

“I think what Iheanacho should consider more is on how to solidify his career rather than the immediate financial gain. He is still very young, therefore, he should go to a club where he can command regular shirt as against where he would be a bench warmer,” former Nigerian international, Friday Ekpo said.

Ekpo is of the opinion that Iheanacho going to Leicester City would be of an advantage taking into consideration the team already boast of two Nigerian players -Ahmed Musa and Ndidi.

“With Ndidi and Musa with other African players already at Leicester, it would make Iheanacho settle fast at the club which is a huge advantage. Having compatriots in a club helps players and even a plus to the national team, because they can always bring the understanding and relationship at the club level to the national team. This equally makes the job of the coach a bit easy whenever they come for national assignment,” Ekpo noted.

Iheanacho’s big break into City’s first team came in 2015, when the club parted ways with Edin Dzeko. Observers were looking out for another high profile striker joining the club but Pellegrini decided to throw his hat into the ring for Nigerian starlet. After coming in as late substitutes in league two games, Pellegrini decided to throw the Nigerian again into the fray against Crystal Palace and the 2013 U 17 World Cup winner reposed the trust the coach had in him as he scored a late winner to give the Sky Blue side of Manchester a perfect start.

That performance did not only earn him the applause of teammates such as Raheem Sterling and David Silva who described him as “the first of many”. But it engraved his name in the history books, as the third youngest player in the Barclays Premier League, to score a goal for Manchester City after Micah Richards and Daniel Sturridge.

Manu Garba, who coached the Nigeria U17 and U20 teams where Iheanacho exploded on to the scene, compares his protégé to England legend Frank Lampard.

“I’m not surprised at his performances for Manchester City as I have said it before; he can play for any team in the world. As a matter of fact, they will do well to use him as a replacement for Frank Lampard. He shares similar style of play with the outgoing legend. They can both create and score goals from midfield with late runs into the 18-yard box hardly spotted by opposition defenders,” Garba had said.

In 2014, he joined City’s 2014-2015 pre-season tour. In his first game against Sporting Kansas city, he netted a goal and also scored in the game against AC Milan.

After the conclusion of the tour, City arranged for the youngster to be trained in Columbus crew until mid-October. But due to delays in obtaining work permit, meant he could not play in England, until February 2015.

In July 2015, he was also included in the City’s pre-season tour team in Australia, where he scored the second goal against AS Roma in the 2015 International Champions cup.

Iheancho’s rise to fame came after  emerging as the best player in the FIFA U-17 world cup in the 2013 United Arab Emirates. From there, he was signed by Manchester City, where he made some appearances for the Manchester City U-21 team, as well as the Nigeria U-20 team in the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 2015 in New Zealand.

In 2013, he was named the Most Promising Talent of the year at the CAF awards. He was born on October 1996, in Imo State and started his youth football career in Taye Academy in Owerri.