By Drew Farmer
Nigerian striker Kelechi Iheanacho may be a new name to many in the English Premier League, and African football as a whole, but the Manchester City player is the newest rising star from the continent.
Only 19-years old, Iheanacho has seen himself go from relative obscurity in Manchester City’s academy to being the understudy for Argentine star Sergio Aguero.
Last season the Nigerian only started seven English Premier League fixtures for the Blues as he was used as a super-sub by then manager Manuel Pellegrini 19 times. The youngster returned eight goals and one assist in those matches. In truth he was the only real bright spot in a season that saw Manchester City flame out of nearly every competition.
This season, fresh off the heels of a contract extension that will see him stay at the Etihad until 2021, Iheanacho has picked up where he left off last term. Already two Premier League goals in four matches, the striker is the first true alternative to main man Aguero that City have had since the days of Mario Balotelli and Edin Dzeko.
It has been Aguero’s recent Premier League three-match ban that has enabled Iheanacho to crack the Manchester City starting XI this term. Aguero’s elbow on West Ham’s Winston Reid got the striker suspended, and many expected City to completely fall off in the strike department without him.
Yet, Manchester City have been just as strong, if not stronger, with Iheanacho leading the line. Whether he has set up goals or scored them himself, Iheanacho is thriving under Pep Guardiola’s stewardship like many of his teammates.
The Blues have been unstoppable in front of goal, leading the Premier League in strikes with 15. Defensively the team have been just as solid, giving up a mere four goals to opponents. Guardiola’s tactical shifts have worked wonders as the team’s passing, possession-based attack has seen them starve opponents of the ball.
Aguero is set to return to the team for Manchester City’s match day six fixture against Swansea. In fact, City face the Swans twice in four days. A midweek clash in the English League Cup will be followed by the teams’ Premier League match up.
Aguero will miss the cup match, but will be able to return for the weekend fixture. Due to the two matches being close in proximity, Guardiola doesn’t necessarily face much of a dilemma in who to start.
Iheanacho should see action in the midweek tie, while Aguero will most likely return to a starting role on Saturday. Giving the Nigerian a rest before City face Celtic in the Champions League. That maybe when Guardiola’s selection nightmare begins.
The fixtures are coming fast and furious now and Guardiola has two extremely talented, capable strikers to call on. He is in an envious position, and City haven’t had this luxury for some time.
Iheanacho’s star is also rising on the African continent. In 2016, the Nigerian has played four times for his country, scoring three goals.
The striker can look to fellow African Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as an inspiration. The 2015 African Footballer of the Year, Aubameyang has become one of the biggest stars of Germany’s Bundesliga playing for Borussia Dortmund.
Fortunately for Iheanacho, due to the English Premier League’s television contracts around the world and the current appeal of the league, he has the ability to receive more exposure in Africa than Aubameyang.
The Borussia Dortmund striker is off to a stellar start this season already, and should retain his African Footballer of the Year award. However, it won’t be long until Iheanacho picks up his first award as the continent’s top player.
Name in home country:
Kelechi Promise Iheanacho
Date of birth:
Oct 3, 1996
Place of birth:
Striker – Centre Forward