In a world where the “next best thing” is always a hot commodity, one cannot describe how pleasant it is to browse the papers over a pint skimming through an article about the next exciting football prospect worth going down to the betting store over and putting down some Randela’s on them becoming top class internationals. Now very few of these protégés end up becoming the greats they were hyped up to be by the glowing reviews, as my bookmakers bank balance will attest to; but the journeys I have undergone tracking many of these young players has been worth every single penny scraped into a bet.
The City Football Academy is a £150m youth development work of art, the picturesque pitches and state of the art training facilities are nothing short of jaw-dropping and befitting of the desire shown by the current owners to develop elite level ready home-grown talent that can lead the club to glory in the future. The mandate has not seemed to coincide with what we have seen on the pitch over the last couple of seasons and bar the brief cameo from José Ángel Pozzo during a mini injury crisis, we have not seen many Manchester City Elite Development Squad members graduating into to first team squad and being preferred over a highly paid acquisition. All that is rumoured to change this season, the leggy former champions are rightfully seeking to inject some youth and fresher talent to a first team squad that was beginning to seem complacent and uninterested for large parts of the season gone by.
Its October of 2013 and the best young players from the best u-17 nations in the world are gathering to battle it out for the FIFA U-17 World Cup and become the best u-17 nation in the realm; while many have their personal teams to watch and possible winners in mind, the tournament ends with Nigeria claiming at 4th FIFA U-17 World Cup crown and the trophy is held aloft by a No:10 who seems to finally be the answer to the great African debate and proven that we might still get another Augustine “Jay-Jay” Okocha in our lifetime. Kelechi, or Nacho as he is affectionately known, came to prominence in this highly entertaining competition as he led an undefeated Golden Eaglets side to the title, the team was marvellous in all departments and their dominance was exemplified by an attacking symphony orchestrated by the talented trequartista named Kelechi. Nigeria scored 26 goals in their 7 games with Kelechi having a foot in 13 of those strikes; his personal performances were commended with his announcement as the Golden Ball winner for the Player of the Tournament, beating Nathan of Brazil who recently signed for Chelsea F.C, and also being awarded the Silver Boot for second most goals scored, beating Boschilla of Brazil due to his higher assist numbers. Kelechi left the United Arab Emirates having scored 6 goals and assisted 7 with scintillating performance that had scouts, pundits and writers alike from across the realm raving about his potential and raw ability.
Kelechi chose his preferred destination after being linked to some of the best sides in the realm and was released from the Nigeria senior national squad training camp preparing for the 2014 African Nations Championship, to head over to Manchester and sign a pre-contract with Manchester City with the intention of moving to the club in October after his 18th birthday as legally permissible by law for foreign players in the UK. The now world renowned talented playmaker returned home to have his spectacular year capped off by being awarded the CAF Most Promising Young Talent of the Year at the Awards Gala and brought Nigeria an accolade they had not won since 2006 where they enjoyed a spell of 4 consecutive winners with Obafemi Martins winning it in 2003 and 2004, while John Obi Mikel stormed to take the award in 2005 before Taye Taiwo took it in 2006. Winning this award proved that Kelechi was indeed the premier young African talent in the realm and that Manchester City had just secured the services of a future legend in the making, the worthy heir apparent to a throne that had been vacant for long enough.
Kelechi joined the City squad for their pre-season tour of the USA for the 2014-15 season, the wunderkind showed why he is a highly touted teenage prodigy with some impressive performances and a goal in two encounters on the tour, 4-1 and 5-1 victories over Sporting Kansas City and AC Milan respectively showcasing glimpses of his ability swim with the big fish in the ocean of talent at City. Work permit hold-ups lead to Manchester arranging for Kelechi to remain in the States with Columbus Crew, as a favour to former City star Claudio Reyna, with the view of ensuring that his development does not stall or see his game regress due to a lack of competitive football and training at a high level. The work permit came through in January of 2015 and Kelechi begun to officially train with the Manchester City Elite Development Squad under the tutelage of the legendary Patrick Vieira, while injuries and acclimatisation may have stalled his development a t the squad a tad bit, Kelechi still managed to finish the season as a player that seems ready for a shot at the first team level in the Sky Blue jersey with his performances and application to his development.
There are many within Africa, and within GSV, that felt as though Kelechi could stall at City and eventually become the African version of Michael Johnson due to the lack of opportunities to play for the side and their reluctance to loan him out to a league where he could have been playing regularly while developing and proving his first team readiness. City stuck to their guns and they seem to be ready to promote a few lads from their Elite Development Squad into the first team for the coming season, while I personally laugh at the thought of Kelechi being called a Manchester City development product, I have immense joy in my heart at the thought of him fulfilling his potential and showing his God-given class and artistry at the highest level and Lord willing, brining some more success to City. We saw how he was demoted down the pecking order at u/20 level for Nigeria as he played a pit part role during the recent 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup in New Zealand where the squad failed to show their u/17 level form and eventually finished the tournament in 11th place after advancing 2nd out of Group E and coming unstuck against the then undefeated Germany side who knocked them out of the tournament in the Round of 16. Kelechi only featured in 2 games during the tournament as Musa Yahaya of Tottenham Hotspur and Success Isaac of Granada carried the burden of trying to carry the attacking unit; the lack of evident development is has game I beyond worrisome, yet the lad has been blessed with a raw skill-set that still manages to shine through all his rough edges.
While £150m is a truck load of money to spend at any level of business, it can easily be the best piece of business Manchester City have ever done since coming into their wealth; an ambitious and well run youth academy will always interest young players and their folks, when that academy is combined with opportunities in a thriving first team that plays a great brand of football, youth coaches start having good headaches over who is better than who in a deep talent pool and that only bodes well for a club moving forward when the talent is managed right. Manchester City wooed Kelechi over to the United Kingdom because they showed him that he could become a star in their galaxy of established stars and be afforded the best possible opportunities to fulfil his talent and become one of the best footballers on the planet, now it’s time for both parties to fulfil their promise; the football fraternity will be an even more entertaining place with a thriving Kelechi showing his class at the elite level and Bob’s the brother of your Kano Pillars supporting Okoman.
Full Name: Kelechi Promise Iheanacho
DoB: October 3rd, 1996 (18)
PoB: Owerri, Imo State; Nigeria
Height: 1, 85m
Position: Attacking Midfielder, Advanced Playmaker, Trequartista, Deep-Lying Forward, Advanced Forward
Preferred Foot: Left
Club: Manchester City F.C.
Jersey No: #72
Contract Expiry: June 30th, 2016
Market Value: € 100 000
Development Academy: Taye Academy
Caps & Goals: N/A (Nigeria u/13, u/15, u/17 & u/20 International)