ESPNFC – As Kelechi Iheanacho struck home the winner for Manchester City against Crystal Palace this weekend, it seemed as if the whole of Nigeria drew a collective breath. It has been 10 years since Nigerian fans were this excited about a young talent.
It is hard not to pick Iheanacho’s style as the one that catches the eye. He is quick, technically gifted, can pick a pass, link up play, run the lines high up the pitch and has goals in him. He is also at a more advanced stage in his development having spent time with Manchester City since he was 17.
Manu Garba, who coached the Nigeria U17 and U20 teams where Iheanacho exploded on to the scene, compares his protege to England legend Frank Lampard.
“I’m not surprised at his performances for Manchester City … as I have said it before, he can play for any team in the world,” he told SL10. “As a matter of fact they will do well to use him as a replacement for Frank Lampard.
“He shares similar style of play with the outgoing legend. They can both create and score goals from midfield with late runs into the 18-yard box hardly spotted by opposition defenders.”
These are the qualities Nigerians see and have based their new found confidence upon. On Saturday, within seconds of coming on, Iheanacho popped up in the box to stab home from close range and win a tight game for City at Selhurst Park.
Garba would have watched that with a little chuckle. Since the retirement of greats like Austin Okocha and Nwankwo Kanu, the Super Eagles have struggled to produce genuine world class talent but for many Nigerians, Iheanacho represents the promise of a return to the glory days. His energy, movement, skills and goal-scoring mark him out as the complete package.
Prior to Saturday’s cameo, the calls were already growing to have him called up to the senior Nigeria set-up. It is hard to see Nigeria coach Sunday Oliseh, who — from his tweets — was watching at home, leaving him out of his next squad. Oliseh clearly sees Iheanacho as the future of Nigerian football; the same as former coach Stephen Keshi, who first called him up to training camp for the 2014 African Nations Championship, a tournament for players playing in their home countries.
Man City manager Manuel Pellegrini admitted after the game that Iheanacho was the reason he did not acquire another striker following the departure of Edin Dzeko to Roma. With Sergio Aguero seemingly injured, it appears the Nigerian starlet might just get a few more chances to shine in the coming weeks.
A note of caution, though. Such high expectations usually lead to disappointment, as has been demonstrated in the past, and there is still some way to go before Kelechi’s shoulders will be broad enough to bear the massive weight of Nigerian hope.
Both Keshi and Oliseh have done the right thing in keeping him away from the national set up while he grows with his club. And even when he does get that international call, restraint and patience will be required.
Mikel triggered mass Nigerian support for Chelsea, despite never quite reaching the heights expected of him. If he can keep his feet on the ground, the evidence suggests that Iheanacho is on course to do the same for Manchester City.
Culled From: ESPN FC