Kelechi Iheancho has been on the lips of City fans since the beginning of the season, even more since last night. I love Kelechi Iheanacho and I talk about him a lot more than one person should. But, there’s good reason for that, dammit! From what I’ve seen in preseason, on YouTube from the U-17 World Cup, youth academy highlights and so far this season I see endless potential and a player that City fans will be cheering on for years to come (I hope).
Iheanacho’s name has become topical this summer with City looking light on homegrown players. Now, with the Aguero injury, he’s receiving even more focus. For reference, here’s a quick summary of the homegrown rule established by the FA for Premier League Teams at the start of the 2010/11 season:
· Each Premier League team can only register 25 players over the age of 21 for that season’s matches.
· A team can have no more than 17 players on their squad who do not meet the definition of homegrown.
o Meaning squads can have an additional 8 players on their teams if they are homegrown
· If a team wants a full squad of 25, they will need to have at least 8 homegrown players in their team. If they do not, they must adjust squad size accordingly.
· (Note that nationality does not play a part in a player’s homegrown status i.e. Gael Clichy).
Iheanacho does not currently count in the homegrown player quota, but with another year in the squad he will be considered one. With Aguero suffering a grade-2 hamstring injury and sidelined for a month, City will be left with only two striker options in Wilfried Bony and Iheanacho (though Patrick Roberts can be used as a striker as well). As Bony has struggled (though I wrote the first draft before that two goal performance but wanted to keep this in!) to find his form since joining City in the January transfer window last season, the Blues may find themselves relying on Iheanacho to pick up the slack off the bench, or even as a starter at times. Since joining City in 2014, Iheanacho’s skill in preseason games and with the Academy teams have left Citizens drooling in anticipation of his future, especially since he will become a homegrown player, as I’ve previously mentioned.
Of course, all of this goes back to the issue of the youth academy. As a long-time observer of the Yankees, I recognize a pattern with City. Big name players come in based on big spending by ownership while promising prospects leave when they are traded, released, or their contracts end. Like many others, that has increasingly frustrated me. City, as well as the rest of the EPL, are no longer afforded the luxury of acquiring by spending rather than player development, and that’s probably for the better. As we saw last season, Chelsea played with only three homegrown players, allowing them just 20 roster spots for that season. And though they were the potential champions of the League last year, their lack of squad rotation and depth has seen their form dip this year due to all around squad fatigue. Obviously winning the Premier League title is a huge deal, but with the TV money making the competition much stronger, it isn’t recommended to play with fewer than the maximum number of players allowed for multiple seasons.
These facts make players like Iheanacho, Patrick Roberts, George Evans, Brandon Barker and et al that much more important. Ditto for scouting and developing these types of players. By retaining and developing these kinds of talents for the future, City will find it easier to compete across four different competitions by having a full 25-man roster for the PL season.
On the other hand, if City continues to sign and groom such youth players to their top potential but find themselves with an embarrassment of riches in certain positions, selling young, homegrown eligible players to Premier League foes can be turned into a lucrative game (i.e. Patrick Roberts for £11m). The need to fill the homegrown player void has forced teams like City, Chelsea and others shell out a pretty penny to sign such players. By playing their cards right, City may look to profit as well.
As one who enjoys stories like George Evans', I would like to see City’s youth academy recent success continue. It would be great to see them bring more players like the aforementioned to the first team. This is probably unlikely to happen given how quickly people want players to develop. But, one can always hope!