Saturday, 30 January 2016

Remember the name: Kelechi Iheanacho is a Manchester City star in waiting

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The 19-year-old Nigerian is no stranger to City fans but is yet to receive a great deal of recognition elsewhere, something which is sure to change in the coming weeks and months
It's time to talk about Kelechi Iheanacho. Manchester City fans know they have got a serious talent on their hands and, soon enough, the rest of the world will know what all the fuss is about.

The 19-year-old Nigerian, recruited after lighting up the 2013 Under-17 World Cup, only got his papers through last February and spent time at Colombus Crew in the United States and was even stationed out in Barcelona as work permit issues dragged on. He was wowing City fans before he was officially a City player - showing flashes on two pre-season tours and impressing for the club's Elite Development Squad - and moments like today feel a long time coming. 

After more than a year's worth of red tape, he has wasted little time showing what he's capable of, but still he is far from a household name

Just seconds into his second ever competitive senior appearance, against Crystal Palace back in September, he drifted into exactly the right area at exactly the right time to score a vital, last-gasp winner for a team who had established themselves as runaway favourites for the title.

Unfortunately for him, that fell the same day as Anthony Martial made his first impression on English football, coming off the bench to score a fairytale goal against Liverpool on his first appearance for Manchester United.

Chelsea had lost to Everton that lunchtime as Jose Mourinho's second spell at Stamford Bridge began to unravel, leaving Iheanacho pushed off the back pages and shunted towards the end of Match of the Day. 

Wider exposure would have to wait. Until today, perhaps. City boss Manuel Pellegrini has been criticised by many fans for failing to give Iheanacho more first-team action, even as Sergio Aguero and Wilfried Bony have missed out through injury, meaning he has largely had to strut his stuff in cup competitions or in late league cameos. It's hard to say he could have done much more.

The youngster scored on his first senior start, against Palace in the League Cup, and was - finally, in the eyes of some - handed a full Premier League debut against Norwich City in the next game at the end of October. That was one opportunity he failed to grasp and found himself limited to late substitute appearances, often when the game was long lost, for the next 10 weeks: he did not start another league match until January 16. 

In that time another League Cup goal against Hull City seemed to have fallen off the radar of the general football conciousness, and he was very fortunately credited with another dramatic winner, this time when Yaya Toure's shot deflected off his back and looped into the Swansea net.

It was at Norwich City in the last round of the FA Cup when he made it five goals in four starts with a cool effort from the edge of the box, but that strike and an impressive wider performance was limited to short internet highlights for the majority of City fans, let alone neutrals, given the FA Cup's limited television audience - and lack of illegal streams - around the world.


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