Iheanacho: City’s protege under Guardiola

Iheanacho: City’s protege under Guardiola

Manchester City fans have a lot to look forward to next season as one of Europe’s hottest managers makes his way to the Etihad. The announcement that Pep Guardiola was to succeed Manuel Pellegrini was welcomed with widespread support and surprise as Manchester City’s growth exceeds all expectations. The arrival of the ex-Barcelona manager will be one of the most highly anticipated appointments in the last decade and there’s already plenty of talk ahead of what could change at City in the 2016-17 season. A number of players will undoubtedly benefit from Guardiola’s coaching skills but one bright spark stands out as a player who could shine for Manchester City next season.

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Kelechi Iheanacho has been a revelation in what’s otherwise been quite an underwhelming season for the Blues. Pellegrini’s squad is packed with stars but after failing to secure a Premier League title for what could be two consecutive seasons, it seems the squad may be in need of a vast shake up. Manchester City’s team has been described as an ‘ageing side’ so Iheanacho, the 19 year-old forward, has been an exciting addition to this season’s campaign. The Nigerian has already made 19 substitute appearances and seven starts for Manchester City this season, including an appearance in the Champions League.

The youngster possesses talent and he’s already proven that this year, scoring on nine occasions in 26 overall appearances and adding an assist to his impressive record. Iheanacho made his mark when he scored a hat-trick after starting and completing 90 minutes in City’s 4-0 thrashing of Aston Villa in the FA Cup at the end of January. He followed it up with a goal against Tottenham two weeks later, where he enjoyed his most impressive performance so far this season. His efforts were rewarded most recently with a start against Chelsea for another FA Cup appearance, showing the manager’s faith in the youngster. His last appearance came against Bournemouth on Sunday afternoon, taking his Premier League appearance tally to 21.

Iheanacho already has one title in his trophy cabinet this season after Manchester City’s Capital One Cup victory over Liverpool in February and the youngster has enjoyed previous success as a youth international, lifting the World Cup at U17s level. Since his inclusion in the first team squad from the summer of 2015, he’s notched up plenty of appearances, scored a hat-trick, gained a cup winner’s medal, has taken part in the Champions League, made senior appearances for Nigeria in the Africa Cup of Nations and has seen his individual value go up to £3.5m. That’s impressive for a youngster at Manchester City, amongst some of the biggest names in the Premier League.

The Nigerian forward was unheard of before he joined Manchester City’s academy in 2014 after playing his football in Nigeria with Taye Academy. Within 18 months, the youngster had progressed to the first team squad and is now a regular feature in Pellegrini’s squad. Under Pep Guardiola, Iheanacho can only grow. He’s already proven he has what it takes to compete in the Premier League and will be fighting for a position in Pep’s squad for the upcoming season. Despite initial disappointment at his country’s failure to qualify for the African Cup of Nations, it may come as a relief to the youngster to know he won’t be away from league action between January and February 2017.

This summer will be a major step in the career of Kelechi Iheanacho, who will undoubtedly be given the opportunity to impress during City’s pre-season period. The youngster possesses qualities Pep Guardiola is famous for implementing amongst his players so the 19 year-old is already halfway there. He has great close control, and a brilliant pass percentage rate in the final third (74 %,) meaning his possession play is effective. Pep Guardiola traditionally encourages his team to play fast-paced, close possession football and the skills Iheanacho has will allow him to play this style of football well. The forward doesn’t have the pace of Sergio Aguero, or the delicacy of David Silva but he has intelligence beyond his youthful years, composure expected of a league regular and the individual skill to allow him to progress under one of the world’s best technical coaches.

The news of Pep’s arrival will have no doubt spurred the youngster on as his career at Manchester City has the potential to hit new heights next season. He’s undoubtedly been the most impressive academy addition under Pellegrini this season and there’s no reason why he can’t improve rapidly under Guardiola. As long as he remains fit until the end of the season and commits himself to an impressive pre-season campaign, Iheanacho will be expected to play a large part in Pep’s Manchester City team next year.