Kelechi Iheanacho has emerged as one of Nigeria’s most exciting players in recent times, especially with his brilliant showings in pre-season with Manchester City.
Having been officially promoted to the Premier League club’s senior squad, Iheanacho appears ready to make his senior international bow under Sunday Oliseh. Completesportsnigeria.com’s NURUDEEN OBALOLA is convinced the teenager is ready to win his first of (hopefully) many full caps and he gives his reasons…
IHEANACHO IS A SUPREMELY CONFIDENT YOUNG MAN
Confidence is a key ingredient in the development of every top player. And Kelechi Iheanacho has it in abundance.
The young Nigerian has shown for some time that he is not fazed by the array of star names he plays along with in the Manchester City squad. Sometimes, his confidence borders on arrogance, which is not a bad thing. Some of the best players in the world are haughty, chest-puffing athletes on the pitch and they get the job done time and again. Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Eden Hazard etc have risen to the top of their profession because they have supreme confidence in their own abilities.
A case in point of Iheanacho’s confidence and a lack of fear happened in the 2014/2015 pre-season. He won a penalty in a friendly against Sporting Kansas and immediately grabbed the ball to take it himself, not minding the presence of several established senior players on the pitch. Although the ball was eventually taken off him as Aleksandr Kolarov scored the penalty, the plucky Nigerian had shown his senior colleagues he was quite comfortable in their company.
Iheanacho scored the last goal in that 4-1 win for City, not letting the penalty incident affect him.
He scored again in the next match versus Italian giants AC Milan and also offered himself for penalty duties in the match against Liverpool. He turned out to be the only City player to score as they lost the shootout 3-1.
There is no timid bone in that lad; he will blend in easily with the likes of Victor Moses, Mikel Obi, Vincent Enyeama, Ogenyi Onazi and other ‘big’ Super Eagles players. He will not be intimidated by them or the occasion.
IHEANACHO IS A PRECOCIOUS TALENT
Having been named the Most Valuable Player at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates in 2013, big things were expected of Iheanacho. He has not disappointed since.
While breaking into the star-studded Manchester City regular XI has not happened just yet, nobody who knows anything about football is surprised.
There is so much pressure on coaches these days of instant success in football that they often prefer to buy their way out of trouble. Most clubs would rather buy big, ready-made players than promote from within.
But Iheanacho has given Manuel Pellegrini something to think about. The Nigerian lad has had two pre-seasons with City and he has excelled at both. It is a matter of time before he can no longer be ignored.
The Flying Eagles star followed up his impressive showing in the 2014/2015 pre-season with an even better 2015/2016 pre-season. He not only scored two goals, he provided quality assists and had more minutes on the pitch than many big stars.
His ability, range of passing, vision and eye for goal are well beyond anything another teenager has displayed in Europe in recent times.
Super Eagles coach Sunday Oliseh certainly could do with a player with such creative and finishing ability in an underperforming Super Eagles squad.
IHEANACHO WILL BRING FRESHNESS, CUTTING EDGE AND COMPETITION TO THE SQUAD
To get the Super Eagles flying again there needs to be some fresh blood in the squad, and Iheanacho is certainly one of the players to provide this.
The team’s forward line was at its best in recent times when Stephen Keshi had Emmanuel Emenike, Victor Moses and Brown Ideye forming a dynamic front three at the Africa Cup of Nations in 2013.
Since that trio was broken up after the AFCON triumph, the team’s play has become dull, laboured and predictable. Besides, the three players have somehow lost their way, especially the once untouchable Emenike.
The replacements for the trio have not exactly been world beaters, and the quality and new spark Iheanacho could bring would be invaluable.
His talent too would make the ‘big’ players realise their spots are not guaranteed, making the team stronger as they all jostle to prove they are good enough.
With Iheanacho around, perhaps that sharpness that has disappeared from the Super Eagles’ play will return, as the battle for striking spots intensifies.
IHEANACHO CAN PLAY ANYWHERE IN ATTACK
Every team needs a versatile player who can cover for many positions, and Iheanacho gives you that.
He is comfortable as the focal point of the attack – the centre forward – the position he played for City in pre-season.
He can play off the centre forward as a No.10 with his excellent passing range and vision, and his brilliant skills, as demonstrated when he dropped deep to provide Raheem Sterling with probably the best assist of pre-season in City’s match against Roma.
He can also play either side of the centre forward as a wide forward in a front three with his decent crossing ability and dribbling skills.
Essentially, Oliseh would be getting a ‘four-man’ if he calls up Iheanacho.
That is, he would be getting four for the price of one.
IF IHEANACHO IS GOOD ENOUGH FOR CITY’S FIRST TEAM SQUAD…
Iheanacho has done enough over the past few months to convince Manuel Pellegrini he is good enough and mature enough to be a part of the City senior squad, and the boss has duly promoted the Nigerian youngster to the first team squad.
In pre-season and games for the U-21s (one of his goals versus Manchester United was nominated for City Goal of the Season) Iheanacho demonstrated that he was ready for the big time.
Pellegrini has a rich squad full of attacking players, but he has identified in Iheanacho a youngster with the talent, ability and mental toughness to mix it with the big boys.
Obviously, Iheanacho will not be starting every City match and might even struggle to make the matchday squad for Premier League and Champions League games.
But if he gets the odd minute here, or five minutes there in Capital One Cup and FA Cup games, the experience would be invaluable. He would become even more confident and he can only get better.
If he is good enough for Manchester City’s first team squad, he should be good enough for the Super Eagles.
No disrespect to the three-time African champions.
IHEANACHO IS A RISK WORTH TAKING
Of course playing Iheanacho would be seen as taking a risk in some quarters, but it would be a risk worth taking. Clemens Westerhof took a gamble when he gave a Super Eagles debut to Daniel Amokachi in 1989/1990.
Then just 17, Amokachi was tearing defences apart with Ranchers Bees of Kaduna and Westerhof spotted the potential. Amokachi went on to become a Nigeria legend, because Westerhof was not afraid to take a punt on a special talent.
The best coaches in the world identify precocious talents and are not afraid to trust them to produce on the pitch. Sir Alex, Arsene Wenger, Pep Guardiola and others like them built their successful careers on unearthing gems and nurturing them to stardom. They then sit back and savour all the credit.
Oliseh’s stock would skyrocket if he gambles on Iheanacho and it pays off. Even if it does not pay off, the coach will have emerged as one who is not afraid to make bold choices.
Win, win situation for Oliseh.