After a disappointing and underwhelming final league campaign under Manuel Pellegrini there was little to cheer about, but despite the despondency, there was one shining light from a dark pit of despair: the Nigerian teenage prodigy, Kelechi Iheanacho.
A year is a huge time in football and this has been painfully demonstrated on the now twenty year old striker; Iheanacho encapsulated the excitement of the Manchester City faithful as he added a much needed level of dynamism into a lacklustre attack. Fast forward to now and his Manchester City career, having only managed a measly five-hundred minutes this season in the league, looks to be prematurely dragging to an end.
Pep Guardiola has been overly ambiguous about his position regarding Iheanacho, praising his ability and tenacity whenever questioned on his opinion, but it doesn’t take a football expert to see that out of the three strikers he has at his disposal, the Nigerian is firmly placed at the bottom of the hierarchy.
It is undoubted that Kelechi Iheanacho is up their with the best young talents in European football and he has a promising and illustrious career ahead of him, but if he is an anomaly in Guardiola’s blueprints for the future of the club, it is hard to see him or his agent believing sitting on the bench and playing the role of a bit-part player is the best move for a player with the world at his feet.
Football is a ruthless business and players are now treated like stock instead of commodities, and despite every Manchester City fan having a huge soft spot for a player they’ve seen grow exponentially after starting out in the EDS, if a player of that quality isn’t playing week in week out, the lure of consistent game time is all too lucrative.
It is plain and simple, with Sergio Aguero’s deadliness and potency in front of goal constantly increasing with every passing season and Gabriel Jesus flourishing in a City shirt, Iheanacho has two options: leave Manchester City behind on a permanent deal and start afresh elsewhere, or be loaned out to a club (preferably a premier league side), where he’ll be increasing game time and gaining invaluable experience. Whilst the loan system has a lot to answer for and usually spells the beginning of the end for a players career at a certain team, Iheanacho could be one of the very few who benefit from it purely because of the extra minutes.
Usually the club a loanee is sent to will hoard that player on the bench for most of the season and show complete disregard to their development because after the season has ended it won’t affect them. Iheanacho is different – his talent alone would be indispensable for a team desperately in search of goals and you can clearly tell by his attitude that when he takes to a football pitch, no matter what the badge is on the shirt, he would give his everything in every game wholly because he loves to play football.
It is essential the blues don’t fall into the same trap the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United have in the past with Romelu Lukaku and Paul Pogba respectively, where they’ve let go a player at an age before they’ve been able to reach their prime and had to watch on in disbelief as they mould into some of the worlds best players – having to break the bank for a player on your books a few years before would spell a resounding failure.
Whilst buy back clauses have become much more prominent in transfer dealings, with the Real Sociedad goal-keeper Gerónimo Rulli the prime example, ultimately the decision lies with the player and their agent itself, and if they believe they were treated unfairly by the board and decide they in fact don’t want to return, then it would leave a lot of ‘egg on the face’ of those in charge of a club – in this case the Manchester City manager and executive board.
Nobody wants to see a situation where Kelechi Iheanacho is forced out of the squad, only to bounce back and become one of the best strikers in Europe, leaving the fans pondering and romanticising over ‘what could have been’, but as the Nigerians future is becoming more hazily uncertain by the day, it goes without saying there would be plenty of suitors if the blues were to slip up.