Is Iheanacho The New Kid On The Block? | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Is Iheanacho The New Kid On The Block?

Posted: Sep 10, 2016 at 7:37 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

Chibuike Chukwu
Lagos – Five years ago, Kelechi Iheanacho’s name did not ring bell in Nigerian football. He was an unknown talent honing his talent at the Taye Academy in Lagos.
Born October 3, 1996, Kelechi does not belong to the privileged financially. He recently gave credence to the above in an interview underlining the hardship he felt as a youngster.
“We didn’t have the money, maybe after a game I’d hear the scores. I’d be at home playing football and my friends would come back after being there to tell me. We didn’t have a television at home.
“Sometimes I watched the Spanish league — it was a bit cheaper, maybe 30 Naira.
“But the Premier League was 50 Naira. Sometimes I’d watch the Premier League if I found the money, or I’d go there and beg them to let me in. Or sneak in, in the second half and pay half the money.”
His journey to stardom began when he was selected by Coach Manu Garba for the 2013 FIFA U-17 World Cup in UAE. He scored six goals in the championship and added seven assists, which finally won him the tournament’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) award.
He started the championship with a bang, scoring four against Mexico in their opening match. He controlled the team’s midfield through tailor-made and defence-splitting passes that ensured that Nigeria won the match 6-1.
Nigeria won the championship, while he ended up as the second highest goals scorer. Iheanacho’s performance surprised even the player himself as he revealed during an interview recently.
“It (my performance) meant a lot to me personally because when I came into the national team camp, I felt uneasy. A lot of the boys thought maybe I was too small, too skinny to be a good player. But I realised later with what I did at the World Cup that God was preparing something special for me.”
Since after winning the cadet World Cup, the Imo State-born player has not looked back, as his reputation has continued to soar.
Despite being included in the U-20 team to the FIFA U-20 World Cup in New Zealand, the team failed to go past the second round losing 0-1 to Germany. But he became the toast of the European clubs that sides including Manchester City, Arsenal, Juventus, among others.
He, however, settled for the Etihad. Iheanacho’s brilliance convinced many Nigerians to clamour for his inclusion in the Super Eagles, with then Coach Stephen Keshi (late) preferring more experienced players.
Prio to signing the Manchester City deal, Iheanacho was included in the team for the 2014 African Nations Championship (CHAN), but left the team in South Africa to sign the deal. Keshi did not take it kindly with the player, denying him a national call. The coach’s excuse was that player was still bereft of the requisite experience to fully be integrated into the Super Eagles.But Keshi’s excuse did not convince many Nigerians who stiull clamour for his inclusion.
Iheanacho demonstrated resilience in the face of established stars at Manchester City to finally start making the cut in the star-studded team. When former Coach Manuel Pellegrini elevated him from City’s youth team to the main squad, he had to endure a lot of bench roles.
Not deterred, Iheanacho continue to fancy his chances. Before the 2014/2015 season, he joined the team on pre-season tour of the United States, where he scored in City’s 4-1 win over Sporting Kansas City and scored again against Milan in a 5-1 win.
The player announced his league scoring debut for City in his second competitive match for the team against Crystal Palace. Replacing Wilfried Bony in the dying minutes of the match, Iheanacho struck with his first touch on the ball and in the game’s last seconds for the match’s only goal. Since then, he continued in his scoring spree, even though coming in as substitute.
He bagged his first hatrick in the colours of City in an FA Cup match against Aston Villa on January 30, 2016, also setting up City’s fourth goal in a 4-0 annihilation of the hapless Villa.
Iheanacho ended his debut Premier League season with 14 goals in all competitions, including eight in the league. He ended up being City’s third highest scorer.
The Nigerian international was not expected by many to remain at the club after the arrival of new manager, Pep Guardiola, but the coach has made the player second striker behind Sergio Aguero in the pecking order, forcing experience forwards like Bony to go on loan.
Guardiola said of Iheanacho: “He is always ready. We will need him. Sergio can’t play all season and Kelli is going to play. He kept the ball and made some very nice assists.”
Iheanacho has been an integral member of the Super Eagles for over a year now. The player has scored two goals in the national team, with his screamer against Tanzania on Saturday still on the lips of so many Nigerians.
The manner he scored the goal and the player’s overall work rate in the heart of Eagles midfield has led so many Nigerians to ask if Iheanacho is the new kid on the block for the Super Eagles.
“Yes, I think he will be the next big team in the national team if he keeps his head low and continue to work hard,” responds Mutiu Adepoju when Independent sought his view.
Responding likewise, Henry Nwosu, another ex-international, said of the player: When we had Mikel, everybody thought that he would plug the midfield hole very well but Chelsea played him out of position. He has now come back fully.
“Iheanacho has started well and I want to believe that he will be relevant to the Super Eagles with time. He did well in that match against Tanzania,” Nwosu said.