It’s incredibly rare to see a young sportsman emerge with a comprehensive set of attributes. Some have technical quality but perhaps lack the confidence to fully demonstrate what they can do.
Others who have the necessary talent may lack the maturity and intelligence to maximise it. Most simply aren’t made for the top of their sport and fall away before they have the chance to make their mark.
But then there are those extraordinary players who possess the complete package. Manchester City, it appears, have a young footballer who falls into that category, one with a wonderful touch, technique and the nerve to try things out of the ordinary. One whose judgement sees him take the right option an abnormal amount of times for a player so young, with maturity beyond his years.
Kelechi Iheanacho has been making a huge impression this season, a process accelerated on Saturday in the FA Cup fourth round. City beat Aston Villa 4-0. Iheanacho scored three and led the line on his own superbly. This isn’t your average 19-year-old.
Manuel Pellegrini had said prior to this match that he didn’t see Iheanacho as an out-and-out striker, more a withdrawn forward who does much of his work outside the box. He changed his mind after watching a complete striker’s performance. It wasn’t just Iheanacho’s goals that impressed—his all-round display was superb.
He linked up with City’s midfielders and brought them into play. He showed great pace on the break. He came alive inside the area. All the hallmarks of a great striker.
“Yes, he can do it also [play as a striker] because he scores always very well,” Pellegrini said. “He has good movements but with another player near him, like Sergio, he also does it very well.”
“I see him every day in training, I know what he can do. Kelechi is the reason we did not feel the need to replace Edin Dzeko or Stevan Jovetic.”
His first was a poacher’s goal, capitalising on a loose ball inside the area after Fernando’s header had been stopped on the line. Iheanacho was the first to react; his thirst for goals clear to everyone inside Villa Park.
His second was a Mario Balotelli-esque penalty, as cool as you like, stroked into the bottom corner having sent Brad Guzan the wrong way. His third, a superb finish when one-on-one with Guzan after a dreadful back pass from Idrissa Gueye, had shades of Nicolas Anelka about it. A first senior hat-trick that’s unlikely to be his last.
Iheanacho now has eight goals from 507 minutes of football—a goal every 63 minutes. He led the line in this match better than Wilfried Bony has all season and has surely now usurped the Ivorian.
The City fans sung his name on a loop throughout the game, and his team-mates greeted him in the changing room afterwards with cheers. They know they are helping to nurture a star of the next generation.
The question now is whether Iheanacho makes City's resubmitted Champions League squad, decided early next week. Pellegrini gave a strong hint afterwards that he would, with the injured Samir Nasri the most likely to make way to accommodate the teenager.
"It's a decision we are going to take during this week. But of course he pushed a lot.
"We need him because Bony is also injured so that is just one striker. We'll see—not because of the three goals but because we need another striker.
"We'll see, we'll talk it over with the doctor, which is the player that can play before both of them. Samir and Kevin [De Bruyne] will be out until the end of March. I will see during the week."
City will be stronger with Iheanacho involved.
Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2015/16 season. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow him on Twitter @RobPollard_.