Kelechi Iheanacho interview: Pre-season training with Pep Guardiola
By Adam Bate
Last Updated: 18/07/16 12:51pm
Kelechi Iheanacho’s emergence was a major positive for Manchester City last season. Adam Bate caught up with the forward to discuss his breakthrough campaign, pre-season training under new coach Pep Guardiola and why there’s far more to his game than goals…
The Manchester City squad is full of star names and big-money signings. And yet, the club's second highest scorer in the Premier League last season was a little-heralded teenager from Nigeria with a serious talent. In 2015/16, Kelechi Iheanacho made his mark.
The 19-year-old's eight goals came at a rate of one every 94 minutes - the best strike rate of anyone to score more than once in last season's Premier League. His rise to prominence meant that the summer trip to back home was a very different experience this time around.
Premier League 2015/16
|Player||Team||Goals||Mins per goal|
|Kelechi Iheanacho||Man City||8||94|
|Sergio Aguero||Man City||24||99|
"It's been good," Iheanacho tells Sky Sports. "I love going back to see my family and friends. Everyone kept coming up to me telling me I've done a great job and that I need to keep working hard. When you play football in the Premier League, everybody is watching.
"Last season was great for me and there were some good highlights. Scoring my goal against Crystal Palace and playing against Real Madrid in the Bernabeu, those were good feelings. But that was last season and it's history. Now it's a new season and we need to focus."
A new season and a new manager. It was Manuel Pellegrini who gave him his opportunity - "he's the one who made it possible" - but the coach keeping a watchful eye over him now is Pep Guardiola, and Iheanacho is in the mood to impress.
"Guardiola is a good manager, everyone knows that," he says. "He's bringing fresh thoughts and his own style. Everything is different and everyone is adapting to what he's teaching us. We need to understand what he's telling us and what he wants to bring to the team.
Iheanacho notes that "it's a different way of training" and when asked if he's enjoying it, he jokes that "there's nothing to enjoy about pre-season, you just have to work hard" but it's clear that this isn't a problem for him. Work, like finishing, comes naturally to Iheanacho.
Indeed, he has already earned a reputation as a finisher of unusual accuracy - "everyone finishes the way that they finish, it just feels natural for me" - but there's more to his game than just poaching. Indeed, he first caught the eye playing in a deeper role for Nigeria.
A winner at the 2013 Under-17 World Cup, Iheanacho earned the tournament's Golden Ball and was a supplier of goals as well as a scorer of them. Playing as an attacking midfielder, he scored six goals but set up a further seven. That could be of particular interest to Guardiola.
"In my country, that's where I started playing. I was a No 10," he says. "For my club, I play more as a striker but I can play in both positions. I can play as a striker or I can play as a No 10. I can even play on the wing as well. I can play in any position."
So does that open up the possibility of Iheanacho being a potential partner for Sergio Aguero rather than his understudy? "I don't know yet," admits Iheanacho. "When we start the season, we'll find out what the coach is going to bring to the team."
We'll also find out a lot more about this City squad. Will they respond to one of the game's great coaches? The early signs are good. "The atmosphere is great," he adds. "We want to achieve a lot this season and I think we're in good shape to do it. We can reach our goals.
"I was happy with what I achieved last season and where I am today. But I have to keep working to improve every day and in every training session. I think I'm improving a lot. I just need to keep working to improve more and more. I want to make the fans proud."
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