A Natural Advantage for Manchester City’s Kelechi Iheanacho

Think about what might be happening now - or what might be being said - if Kelechi Iheanacho was English.

Hype. Lots of it.

Being a developing homegrown player in the Premier League is difficult because, as has been proven time-after-time, even the vaguest flicker of promise is amplified immediately and, depending on the character of the athlete, that can be a difficult burden to shoulder.

Being off the England radar is preferable, then. If a player’s development has no bearing on the national team and holds no interest to those outside an individual fanbase, he tends to be left alone. Yes, some of the same lofty prophecies are still made on social media, but the surrounding atmosphere is noticeably less intense.

The reaction to Kelechi Iheanacho is a pertinent example of just that: the 19 year-old Nigerian has very quietly exploded into the game. And yes, I’m aware of the contradiction it terms.

Iheanacho has one of the most complete games I can remember seeing in a player so inexperienced. His finishing is composed and his off-the-ball movement (seemingly an inherited rather than coached skill) is excellent, but - as and when picked by Manuel Pellegrini - he manages to slot into the Manchester City side fairly seamlessly. He has that natural chemistry with his surrounding forwards and that’s something which is not typically associated with young forwards.

Yet, nobody is really talking about him. The City fans presumably are, but it’s as if the rest of the world is yet to spot just how good a player he’s capable of becoming. He’s a star in the making, without question.

That indifference is partly derived from the colour of his passport, but also probably the club he plays for: Manchester City still don’t really appear in the national cross-hairs. That’s a strange thing to say given their size and recent history, but very little attention is actually paid to the club beyond a superficial level. Everyone has an opinion on their starting-eleven and their managerial situation, but precious little is ever said - or written - about the infrastructure which has been built since Sheik Mansour arrived.

Why that is, who knows? It might be because the notion of an organic Manchester City who are built for self-sustainability doesn’t really suit the generalised perception of them as an oil-funded vanity project or, possibly, because training grounds and academy projects are a harder sell than moans about Financial Fair Play.

Whatever the reason, it’s to the benefit of these young players. Iheanacho was technically recruited rather than grown, but he is still an example of an evolving approach - and, as that new talent farm matures, it’s a virtual certainty that others will follow. And they too, while still facing a mighty struggle to break into the first-eleven, will also get to incubate under that low heat.

It’s admittedly a tenuous point, but consider it from this perspective:if a Manchester United or Liverpool youngster had scored that hat-trick against Villa or exhibited the promise that Iheanacho has, would the response have been more or less feverish?

More - considerably more. He would already have been elevated to a ridiculous level in the consciousness and tipped for major honours.

It may rankle with some supporters that their club remains in that cultural shadow, but it’s actually a privilege. It’s healthier; the Etihad isn’t set in that same rarefied air as Old Trafford, Anfield or even the Emirates and that has to make it a more fertile environment.

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