The quality of Kelechi Iheanacho’s pre-season performances for Manchester City, in which he delivered a series of outstanding displays full of attacking brilliance, saw the calls for him to be integrated into the first team this season grow louder.
City’s pre season saw the team use a host of young players, all of whom impressed, yet it was the Nigerian who stole the show.
Jason Denayer, a 20-year-old centre-back with international experience and a silverware-winning year with Celtic under his belt, looks incredibly assured and in need of more game time. Meanwhile, Marcos Lopes, fresh from a season-long loan at Lille, looks much more physically prepared than last time he was at City.
But Iheanacho, 18, has something more—that star quality so rare in a young footballer. His technique is sublime, he exudes the confidence to try exciting pieces of skill that so many wouldn’t and he displays intelligence and awareness in possession. It’s not often a player with such a seemingly complete skill set comes along.[post_ad]
He showed his quality in every pre-season game he played in. Against Roma, in particular, he shone, setting up Raheem Sterling for his first City goal with a beautifully lofted pass before an emphatic second-half finish showcased his calmness and ability in front of goal.
Pace, technical quality, great feet, vision and appreciation of space—he appears to have everything he needs to carve out a great career.
Despite his obvious array of talents, his path into the City first team will be far from easy. They have a squad of supremely talented players, particular in the attack. They have been the Premier League’s top scorers in both seasons Pellegrini has been at the club and have already bagged six in their opening two matches this season.
Question marks remain over Pellegrini’s willingness to give his most promising young players a run in the side.
Pre-season appeared to herald a new dawn, as several youngsters were given an opportunity to shine. Yet with City 3-0 up and cruising in their opening match against West Bromwich Albion, Iheanacho was left on the bench, wasting a wonderful opportunity to see him capitalise on his pre-season form.
Sergio Aguero was brought on instead, which is understandable, given the paucity of time on the pitch he’d enjoyed during the pre-season. Pellegrini realized his star needed to log some minutes before the game with Chelsea. Even so, a big opportunity for Iheanacho came and went.
At some stage, a leap of faith is needed. Pellegrini must be prepared to give one of his young charges an extended run of involvement in order to asses their suitability to the side, and Iheanacho tops the list of candidates.
Given the hurdles in front of him, if Iheanacho can make 12 to 15 appearances for City this season across all competitions, that would surely be considered a successful campaign for the Nigerian.