Kelechi Iheanacho: What does the future hold?

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With the Nigerian youngster failing to progress under Pep Guardiola, is it high time he left the blue half of Manchester?


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Flashback to September 12, 2015, and Manchester City were on the brink of securing a goalless draw against a tough Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park. However, with just a few seconds left to play, Kelechi Iheanacho - making his senior debut, tapped the ball home for a 1-0 win.

Iheanacho showed progress for the rest of that season but things didn’t turn out well for him when Pep Guardiola arrived last summer, and as we approach the 2017-18 campaign, he finds himself at a career crossroads.


The story of last season


Iheanacho PS

Iheanacho made an encouraging impression in his maiden season with City, scoring eight goals in 26 outings of which only seven from the start. He averaged a goal every 94 minutes which, for a teenager taking his first steps in the Premier League, was a remarkable return.

However, Manuel Pellegrini – who was impressed with the Nigerian's qualities, was dismissed after the Citizens finished a disappointing fourth and in came Pep Guardiola from Bayern Munich. One could have expected Iheanacho’s progress to continue under the famous Catalan tactician, who has often placed his faith in youngsters.

Iheanacho found game time hard to come by, making only 28 appearances in all competitions – of which just eight were starts. He scored a total of seven goals, a far cry from what he achieved in his debut season.

Guardiola appeared not to have too much faith in the Taye Academy graduate as he preferred to use a false nine when Sergio Aguero was off form. The arrival of Gabriel Jesus from Palmeiras in January further pushed Iheanacho down the pecking order, with the Brazilian sensation finding the back of net seven times in 10 league appearances, despite a three-month injury layoff.


What could happen this window?


Kelechi Iheanacho and Sergio Aguero of Manchester City

Iheanacho has been heavily linked with a move to West Ham United, and that wouldn’t be a bad switch. The Hammers finished 11th last season, despite high expectations having moved to the London Stadium.

The issue with Iheanacho moving to the capital is that Slaven Bilic will surely look to add more names to his squad. Prolific strikers such as Olivier Giroud and Javier Hernandez have been linked with a transfer and Iheanacho may again struggle to make his mark because of stiff competition.

Iheanacho has also been linked with Leicester City, and he could flourish alongside Jamie Vardy as record signings Islam Slimani and Ahmed Musa failed to live up expectations under Claudio Ranieri and Craig Shakespeare last term. The Foxes will want to start the new campaign on a high and getting the 2013 U-17 World Cup winner could prove to be a masterstroke.

With Alexis Sanchez claiming he doesn’t know where his future lies, a potential transfer to Manchester City has been mooted as an option for the Chile superstar. Could such a move lead to Iheanacho going in the other direction? 

Arsene Wenger has always relied on youth, and might see the young Nigerian as a fascinating project to work on.

A move to Tottenham Hotspur has also been mooted.


What to expect next season


Iheanacho Leroy Sane Manchester City Celtic UEFA Champions League 12062016

The presence of Gabriel Jesus will make life difficult for Kelechi Iheanacho at the Etihad Stadium, and a move away from Manchester is looking imperative to ensure that his burgeoning reputation doesn’t stall.

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Iheanacho looked poised to be the first City academy graduate in the Sheikh Mansour era to successfully establish himself in the senior squad, but the mega bucks continue to overshadow youth development.

 

The Nigeria forward has indicated that he is happy to stay at the Ethiad Stadium and he could fight for his place in the squad. He has, after all, risen to the big occasion in the past, as he did with his goal and assist in City’s 2-1 Manchester Derby victory at Old Trafford last September.

It's performances like this that should ensure that Iheanacho will be in demand between now and the close of the window...even if Pep's yet to be convinced.

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