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The rise and rise of Kelechi Iheanacho

It’s hard to recall a similarly meteoric rise in recent club history…

364 days after scoring in the 2015 FA Youth Cup final for City u18s, Kelechi Iheanacho took to the field for Tuesday night’s UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg against Real Madrid.

When David Silva’s night came to a premature end after 40 minutes, Manuel Pellegrini handed his 19-year old Nigerian ace the most ringing of endorsements, bringing Kelechi on for his third appearance in the competition.

In what was one of the most important games in City’s history, it showed just how far Iheanacho has come in this, his breakthrough season.

It followed what was one of Kelechi’s best outings in the Premier League against Stoke where the 19-year old struck twice, won a penalty and earned the Man of the Match accolade.

A performance which left his manager purring.

Pellegrini told journalists: “Kelechi is a player with an important role at this Club. He played very well and his contribution is important. I am very pleased."

Those two goals meant that Kelechi had scored a goal for every 81 minutes he had been on the field in 2015/16 and took him up to 11 for the season – making him the club’s third top-scorer.

Iheanacho may have been unable to improve further upon his staggering minutes-per-goal ratio but he didn’t look out of place against the continent’s most successful club, causing problems for Real between their lines of defence and midfield.

This remarkable ascent from under-18 football to Europe’s most prestigious stage began on the summer tour of the USA in 2014 where the youngster caught the eye with a string of fine performances.

He scored in the first tour match against Sporting KC which preceded the competition to cap an excellent performance, sidefooting a Jesus Navas cut-back into the bottom corner of the net with two minutes left on the clock.

Inheanacho got in on the scoring act again a few days later in the opening game of the Guinness International Champions Cup with an improvised outside-of-the-foot finish against Milan in the 5-1 win at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field.

Kelechi first rose to prominence on the world junior stage when he scored six goals and made seven assists in the 2013 FIFA U17 World Cup which helped to fire Nigeria’s Super Eaglets to success in Abu Dhabi.

This incredible contribution saw him named the U17 World Cup’s best player, earning him the coveted Golden Ball trophy.

His tally in the competition included a four goal haul against Mexico in their opening group game and, by the end of the tournament; he had a direct hand exactly half of Nigeria’s 26 goals.

Previous Golden Ball winners at the FIFA U17 World Cup include legendary US international Landon Donovan and 2014 World Cup-winning Real Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos.

In January 2014, Kelechi went on to claim the “Most Promising Talent of the Year” award in January 2014 at the CAF annual awards ceremony which recognises the best footballers in Africa.

His senior debut for Nigeria wasn’t far away, with the youngster making his first appearance for the Super Eagles last year, as a substitute against Swaziland.

Now a regular in the squad, Iheanacho is already seen as one of the continent’s brightest young hopes following a stunning breakthrough campaign at City.

A last gasp winning goal against Crystal Palace, a cool finish against Spurs and a hat-trick against Aston Villa are just three highlights of an impressive season for the boy from Owerri.

The only competition the dauntless teenager hasn’t scored a goal for City in is the Champions League.

With a goal-per-minute record this good, you certainly wouldn’t bet against Kelechi putting that right at the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday night…

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