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Iheanacho to Man City – wise move?

The news making the rounds recently is that Nigerian teenage prodigy Kelechi Iheanacho is set to put pen to paper for English outfit Manchester City.

Kelechi was apparently allowed to leave the Super Eagles B camp to travel abroad with a yet unnamed agent to conclude a deal that should see him join a bevy of young players who are currently being recruited by City in their recent drive to adopt a model that mirrors Barcelona’s successful paradigm.

It’s easy to see why Kelechi, who won the Most Valuable Player Award in the recently concluded Under-17 World Cup tournament in Qatar, would have been thrilled at the prospect of joining one of Europe’s elite clubs. Who wouldn’t? It’s every young player’s dream to one day play for the biggest teams in Europe and they certainly don’t come bigger than Manchester City.

Having been taken over in 2008, by the Abu Dhabi-based United Group Investment and Development Limited, City have grown in leaps and bounds with ambitions that match any of Europe's traditional heavyweights. Their successes since then have also been incremental.

Additional money and success have increased expectations. Where City fans in the past had been content with mid-table mediocrity, they now expect an unremitting supply of medals and instant gratification, especially in Europe where the team has come up short despite significant investments. The pressure has certainly been cranked up over the last few years and the attendant ramifications have seen managers ousted almost at whim. They now have the clout to buy the cream of players that a lot of clubs in Europe can only dream about.

So why go for Iheanacho? Why go for a player barely out of his teens? Why go for a player whose most significant achievement has been to win an Under-17 tournament. Iheanacho hardly has any experience playing in Europe. He is yet to win a senior cap for the Nigerian national team and, although prodigiously talented, still requires a lot of guidance to fulfill his obvious potential. Do City really need him?

While City could point out that they have only recently intensified their efforts at bringing in young players to meet Europe's impending Financial Fair Play regulations, it's hard to see how their recent recruitments of unheralded youth could make the transition into the first team given the inordinate demands for success the owners and fans crave.

While their Elite Development Squad (which Kelechi could become a part of should he eventually sign) is perhaps one of the best in Europe, it has yet to produce a regular for the first team. Abdul Razak was its last graduate who saw first-team action but even that was fleeting and he was soon carted off to a series of smaller clubs until he eventually found a home in the Russian league at Anzi Makhachkala. Manchester City is a cauldron for established players and potentially caustic for younger players who have yet to cut their proverbial teeth in the exigent world of European football.

As Iheanacho and his advisers contemplate the complexities of becoming a part of this juggernaut, they need to ask themselves some thought provoking questions.

How many players have been lost in the doldrums of City's youth team? When was the last time City promoted a player from their reserves to the main team? How many African players have made the grade at City?

Kolo Toure and his brother Yaya have been the most notable African representatives but both of them were bought in at their primes after they had made their names for other clubs in England and Spain respectively. For every Kolo or Yaya who managed to make the first team in City is an Abdul Razak who has left from frustration and disillusionment at not being able to crack the pantomime of becoming a regular in the first team.

Of course, Iheanacho could be loaned out to a club in Europe as was done for Razak but, as most footballers who have been through that experience would testify, it is an approach that could either precipitate a favourable return or one that could leave a player floundering in mediocrity until the parent club decides to discard the player.

It certainly can't be all about the pursuit of ephemeral lucre. The player's we'll-being, his growth and, perhaps more pertinently, his development into becoming a world class footballer should be first priority.

Stephen Keshi's pronouncement that an unknown representative of the player had approached him without due process to release the lad to travel to Europe is disquieting. Although a phone call at a later stage from the boy's father assuaged suspicions, one can’t help but sense incompetence that foretells regrettable outcomes for this kid.

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