Could this 19-year-old Manchester City striker become a football superstar?
In an age where football is dominated by money and inflated transfer fees, it is becoming increasingly difficult for young players to burst through the academy system and into top teams. Clubs fighting for trophies demand immediate success and prefer to cherry-pick the top talent from other teams rather than develop their own talent and wait patiently for their youth system to bear fruit.
With this in mind, it takes a special talent to break out of an academy and into the first team of a club at the top end of the table. Manchester City’s 19-year-old forward Kelechi Iheanacho is exactly that. He is a special, special talent.
The Nigerian was brought to Manchester in 2013 after inspiring his country to victory in the Under-17 World Cup. Iheanacho scored six goals and assisted seven more, winning the Golden Ball award for best player, as Nigeria romped to the title.
However, many who have flourished at youth level have failed to convert their talent into successful careers at senior standard. Previous winners of the Golden Ball award at Under-17s level include World Cup winners Cesc Fabregas and Toni Kroos, but also the likes of Sani Emmanuel, who currently plies his trade in Bosnia, and ex-Liverpool striker Florent Sinama Pongolle. Winning the Golden Ball showed Iheanacho has talent, but whether this would translate into success at Manchester City was a completely different story. It was still a gamble on City’s part.
Three years on, and Iheanacho is making good on his promising youth career, and has the makings of a quality striker. Called into the senior squad at the start of the campaign, he immediately made his name by scoring the winning goal from the bench against Crystal Palace in just his second appearance for his club. Since that goal, Iheanacho has played 31 times for Manchester City, scoring 13 goals in that time.
This goal ratio would be fairly impressive on its own, but when it is examined in greater detail it becomes abundantly clear just how good a goalscorer the teenager is. He has started just five Premier League games, coming off the bench on 19 occasions, yet has still managed seven strikes at a ratio of one goal every 87 minutes. This is a better ratio than Jamie Vardy, better than Harry Kane and, believe it or not, better than Sergio Aguero.
In cup competitions, Iheanacho scored in both of his appearances in the League Cup, and also bagged four in three FA Cup matches, including a clinical hat-trick against Aston Villa. Over Manchester City’s four competitions, the Nigerian prodigy has started just nine games, scoring seven goals to add to the six he has bagged from the bench.
Furthermore, out of Iheanacho’s 31 appearances for Manchester City, over half of them have lasted more than 20 minutes. In truth, he has hardly spent any time on the pitch in his rookie season and has still managed to accumulate a very healthy goal tally of 13. It is no surprise that he has emerged ahead of £28 million misfit Wilfried Bony as Manuel Pellegrini’s second choice striking option.
It is not just his goals that set the Nigerian apart, though. He is quick, strong, skillful and intelligent in possession. He can both hold up the play and run in behind. When his team doesn’t have the ball, he will run and run to try and regain possession.
A good example of everything that makes Iheanacho so special was his performance against Southampton in City’s heavy defeat at St. Mary’s. Even when everything was going against a weakened Man City team, with Raheem Sterling ineffectual and the defence deciding to play completely independently of one another, Iheanacho was still able to shine. He scored an instinctive header with the ball pinging around the Southampton box, before curling in a beautiful left-footed strike from outside the box for his second.
As well as his two goals, Iheanacho put a chance on a plate for Raheem Sterling with a some great play that summed up his ability perfectly. He closed down Virgil van Dijk on the left, tore into the box, shrugging off van Dijk and Cuco Martina before cleverly placing the ball at the onrushing Sterling’s feet. Had Sterling been as clinical as Iheanacho was in that game, it could have been a very different result for City.
In short, Kelechi Iheanacho has all of the makings of a top striker. With Sergio Aguero to learn from and Pep Guardiola to become his manager, he has the best tutors available to turn him from a promising youngster into one of the world’s top forwards. He has all of the raw talent, an incredible coolness in front of goal, and has already proven that he can score goals for fun. Just like with any young player, caution must be taken to avoid putting too much pressure on his young shoulders, but Kelechi Iheanacho could be one of the stars of the future.
Featured Image – All Rights Reserved by Mijss and Sir Thao and Phuc.
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