Chasing the ball with Tottenham’s Musa Dembele. Despite expecting to spend this season in City’s development squad, Iheanacho has played 17 league games
Kelechi Iheanacho couldn’t afford the 20p fee to watch Premier League football when he was growing up in Nigeria – now the Manchester City striker is the star kids pretend to be.Kelechi Iheanacho has emerged as a star for Manchester City this season. The 19-year-old has made himself a key member of the first team squad, scoring nine goals already after breaking through. But the striker could not afford to watch Premier League as a child Iheanacho used to watch Spanish football because it was cheaper. Yaya Toure, then of Barcelona, was his hero, and is now a team-mate. Kelechi Iheanacho, has been a revelation this season, earlier this month he broke into City’s European Champions League squad replacing the injured Samir Nasri. The 19-year-old striker has emerged as a genuine option for Manuel Pellegrini, scoring nine times this season
As a child, Iheanacho was not so lucky and in his first major newspaper interview since bursting onto the scene this season, the 19-year-old reveals the hardship he felt as a youngster. Brought up in what he describes as a ‘poor area’, he was one of the worse-off kids and could rarely afford even 20p (30 cents US) to watch football.
Iheanacho has flourished in this season’s FA Cup, scoring at Norwich in the third round before a hat-trick against Aston Villa in the fourth. City’s squad signed his match ball and could be heard singing the fans’ chant of ‘Ihean-atch-io’ inside the Villa Park dressing room while their shy star performed media duties outside.
Despite emerging as a City star, Iheanacho says he still has to keep his head down and work hard
With nine goals already under his belt in an excellent debut year, he is ready to lead the line for City at Stamford Bridge but has no recollection of ever seeing an FA Cup tie back home.
Iheanacho admits finding that drive did not come easily at school, even though his mother, Mercy, was a teacher. She passed away in 2013, a few months before his life-changing Under 17 World Cup, and her memory serves as a constant source of determination.
Kelechi now plays alongside Yahaya Toure his boyhood idol. Toure is one of the senior stars at City who have taken the young striker under their wing
It was hard for us when my mother left us. We couldn’t do anything so I said to myself ‘move on and keep working hard.’
‘It was hard for us when my mother left us,’ Iheanacho reflects, suddenly holding back tears. ‘We couldn’t do anything so I said to myself “move on and keep working hard”. ‘She makes me work harder. When I’m not doing something right, or when I’m not playing or working hard enough, then I remember her. She pushed me to work hard.
‘There are jobs [back home] but football has always been with me. When I was growing up they didn’t want me to do it because my mother was a teacher — they wanted me to go to school. But I love football and wanted to play — they wanted to stop me but couldn’t. ‘They wouldn’t allow me to play out after school but I went out anyway. Maybe I lost a bit of focus on my studies. It’s amazing when you go back home now, when you remember how you were before. You go back home and all those people are calling your name, shouting. I get mobbed by the kids. They want to see you, want to know you.’
The teenager came off the bench to score against Tottenham last Sunday, his ninth goal of the season
Nigerian football legend Nwankwo Kanu certainly knows Iheanacho, whose contract runs until 2019. The former Arsenal striker was at the Etihad campus after City’s defeat by Leicester earlier this month to spend half an hour with his country’s most exciting prospect.Nigerian legend Kanu travelled back to coach Iheanacho’s team when he was a player at Arsenal
Born in the same state, Kanu feels he has an attachment to the prodigy, often travelling back to Africa during his playing days to coach the Taye Academy team that included Iheanacho. Iheanacho idolised Kanu while banging a football against the walls of the buildings where football was being screened inside. Now there are plenty of kids pretending to be Manchester City’s No 72.
The striker has taken a real liking to the FA Cup, in which he has started twice and scored four goals, including a hat-trick
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