On Monday afternoon news broke, as per Sky Sports, that Leicester City had agreed a £25m deal to sign Kelechi Iheanacho from Manchester City.
The striker struggled to adapt to Pep Guardiola’s absolute philosophies and, as a result, has found himself a victim of an extensive summer overhaul. The man previously dubbed as one of City’s brightest young talents was expected to thrive under the Spaniard and become a linchpin of City’s attacking line. The arrival of Gabriel Jesus, who was hand selected by Guardiola, of course, did not help the chances of the 20-year-old adapting to the new system and immediately put more pressure on his place in the squad.
Iheanacho’s long-term future already looked settled before the turn of the year. The rumours surrounding Sergio Agüero’s future were ripe and Guardiola himself stated that he expected more of the Argentine but, still, Iheanacho rarely got his chance in the team. These semi-regular starts were only reduced further to sporadic nugatory appearances once Jesus joined with the squad in January.
Despite making just 24 appearances last term, in comparison to the 26 appearances in his debut senior season under Manuel Pellegrini, Iheanacho managed to score seven goals – including the winner in the first Manchester derby of the season. The fact that Iheanacho found the net on seven occasions in just 1,278 minutes on the pitch poses the question: are Manchester City moving on a player who could provide value to the team?
Iheanacho’s Ian Wright-like style of play is undoubtedly redundant in Guardiola’s system where all players must be able to make an impact in each third of the pitch, but his natural poaching ability is an asset that is lacking in other Premier League squads. The Nigerian managed 14 goals in his debut season, 4 of which came from substitute appearances. Could he not be employed in the same way under Guardiola?
Understandably, it is hard to rule out an attacking force including the likes of Agüero, Jesus, Leroy Sané and Raheem Sterling putting the result beyond doubt before the need for a substitution, but City were particularly wasteful in front of goal in Guardiola’s debut season. Again, Guardiola’s philosophy does not allow for a ‘just put the ball in the back of the net’ approach but, considering that the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich has already conceded that he needs to adapt his tactics to suit the Premier League, is this not a sign that there should be a Plan B?
From the additions that City are rumoured to be interested in making this summer, the options on the substitute bench will indisputably be more potent than in the previous two seasons, but all will still play in the same system. Rather than a Plan B, City will have the options of better substitutes playing the same role as the man they replace. A Plan A 2.0, perhaps, but not Plan B.
There is expected to be a buy-back clause included in the deal to sell Iheanacho so it is a ‘no risk’ move for City. But is it? What happens if it comes to October and teams have found a way of shutting out City’s strikeforce? An unlikely situation, granted, but it is certain that some of teams who set up defensively against City will deny Guardiola’s side from taking all three points. It is in games like that where the Plan B option, namely Iheanacho, is needed.
By no means is this a bad move for City, though, and it is right for Iheanacho’s career to move on despite being quoted saying that he wants to stay and fight for his place at the Etihad. The fear inside me, however, feels that City could live to regret signing players solely because they fit into Guardiola’s system and that a player with the niche skill set that Iheanacho possess should be replaced with a player with similar abilities.