With Sergio Aguero departing and high cost of possible replacements, could Pep Guardiola turn to the improving Nigerian to bolster his frontline?
While it has barely been mentioned or remotely considered, should Manchester City bring Kelechi Iheanacho back to the Etihad Stadium?
It is unlikely to happen, given Pep Guardiola’s troops reportedly have their sights on Borussia Dortmund’s force of nature, Erling Haaland, or Inter Milan’s Romelu Lukaku — both strikers definitely among the best in their positions in Europe at present — opting to bring the Leicester City frontman back to Manchester is undoubtedly a long shot.
Even Harry Kane, who has a decision to make over his Tottenham Hotspur future this summer, could be an option for Pep Guardiola if he decides to take that next step in his career to win trophies. Without a doubt, the complete, world class England man will fit into the City side.
However, for the aforementioned forwards, there are obvious financial complications.
Haaland’s current release clause of around £130 million — which reduces significantly in summer 2022 to £70million or thereabouts — may be tricky to meet this year. Inter are unlikely to settle for peanuts for their best player even if current challenges with Suning Holdings Group could lead the Cityzens to test the Nerazzurri’s resolve for Lukaku, while Daniel Levy always drives a hard bargain in North London.
Iheanacho may not be the world class option Guardiola requires in that position but one that makes fiscal sense when all is considered. The former City forward was sold to the Foxes for £25 million with a reported buyback clause of £50 million inserted in the deal.
It’s taken four years, but the Super Eagle’s recent form makes him a left-field option for the Cityzens if their primary targets prove unattainable this summer. Admittedly, while it’s still a small sample size of games, the 24-year-old’s current run has seen him shatter a few personal records and has time to set new ones with eight Premier League games to play.
Having scored his first PL hat-trick in the dismantling of bottom Sheffield United in March, the attacker played a pivotal role in leading the Foxes to their first FA Cup semi-final with a 3-1 success over Manchester United before the hiatus.
Involved in all three goals (two goals and an assist) against the Red Devils, Iheanacho took his recent tally to seven goals in his last four games to send Leicester into their first FA Cup semi-final since 1981/82, ending a run of five quarter-final defeats on the spin.
Given Jamie Vardy’s inexplicable lull since January (he’s scored only once in 2021), Rodgers’ side have been uplifted by the West African netting in four games in succession for the first time in his career, boosting their top four prospects and putting them within two wins of their first-ever triumph in the sport’s oldest cup competition.
“Jamie [Vardy] hasn’t scored in a few games, but his movement and assists have been first class. He gives Kels [Iheanacho] space,” Rodgers said in his Man City pre-match press conference. “They link up very well and since they’ve been playing together they’ve been outstanding.”
Speaking to Sky Sports, the former Liverpool boss spoke glowingly about his in-form frontman, explaining the tactical switch that’s bringing the best out of him.
“When he has played in a diamond structure or a 3-1-4-2, he has always played well and combined with another striker. That is probably what he is best suited to. But I have played a lot of the time this season with one central striker and two wide forwards,” Rodgers revealed.
“When we lost our attacking players, we lost our wingers, our really creative players, and it was just a case of trying to figure out how to get the balance in the team to give us a real creative aspect while retaining defensive stability as well.
“We decided to play 3-4-1-2 and then go to 3-1-4-2. We started looking at different aspects of how they could play together, and it has worked really well for us.”
With five goals in his last three league games, Iheanacho has now netted six league goals this term, putting him two behind his most prolific Premier League return in 2015/16. For context, the Nigeria star’s goals per 90 rate of 0.75 is the best in the entire league, adding even more gloss on his recent run.
Be that as it may, a return to Man City may not be to his benefit, especially due to Pep’s preferred 4-1-4-1 or 4-2-3-1 formation. While an argument will be made that the fluid system of the champions-elect suggests he’d thrive, the forward’s strengths are marked when played in tandem with a natural striker up top.
Undoubtedly, Iheanacho is in the form of his life and there’s hope he finds the consistency that made City insert the buyback clause in the first place and convinced Leicester to splurge on one of the most promising young talents in the division four years ago.