At the beginning of July 2016, when the Rio 2016 Olympics was about to kick off, stern and encouraging words were uttered into the ears of a Nigerian player in Manchester, Kelechi Iheanacho, that his future would be better served by staying for the summer training camp under new manager, Pep Guardiola.
He heeded this advice. He was present at the unveiling of the new logo for Manchester City – ostensibly the face of the new Citizens. Six months after that positive conversation, he hardly gets minutes on the pitch and it looks like he is back to just being a squad member out of the first team.
No explanations have come forth from Lord Guardiola but surely, Iheanacho’s agent and handlers now know there is fire on the mountain on account of the arrival of Gabriel Jesus. Many would say that a stellar name like Sergio Aguero is also feeling the heat of the Brazilian’s arrival, even though Iheanacho has gained a little respite on account of the Brazilian’s injury.
Speaking to and reading from some football enthusiasts shows that there may not be a way back for Iheanacho – who as recently as November was touted as having the best goals-per-minute ratio for any striker in Europe’s top five leagues.
What Nigerians are saying
Tolu Shotade, a sport analyst believes Iheanacho’s Man. City career must come to an end now. “I think he should move away. Guardiola might be urged to bring some players through from the academy but I do not think even the club want it to be in the central striker position.
“They will always be looking to sign the best strikers,” Shotade added.
Iheanacho’s coach at the U-17 and U-20 World Cups, Manu Garba, told owngoalnigeria that the Super Eagles striker has been betrayed by his City manager.
“It’s normal for him to feel betrayed by the man who made him sacrifice the chance to play at the Olympics with Nigeria. He is a good lad and will definitely prove people wrong in the future.” Maybe, not at City, Garba should have added.
So what has gone wrong for the 20-year-old Super Eagle and what is the possible solution to his present trials?
Jesus is the perfect fit for a Guardiola forward – rapid, skilful and ready to run the channels – traits that are Iheanacho’s real forte.
At the U-17 level, Iheanacho played as a No.10, doing his best work from the flanks with a knack for arriving in the box to finish off chances.
But since he moved to City, he has been developed into a proper No.9. He has not added pace or strength, which means he cannot play with his back to goal. He also mostly looks isolated because he does not have the speed to get away from his markers.
Would he be telling himself he made a mistake by staying with City in the summer instead of chasing glory with the U-23 team to Rio?
That Nigeria U-23 team went to Brazil and won the bronze and could have been made stronger with Iheanacho’s presence is an assertion that is arguable.
Though in the context of the present scenario – we can ask, what has he gained by shirking the opportunity to become an Olympian?
No minutes and gradual descent into obscurity…
This is however not Iheanacho’s first loss to Jesus; they met at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 2015, where the Brazilians triumphed 4-2. It now seems that Nigeria’s golden boy may have to relocate to enjoy greener pastures else.