Manchester City: Does Pep Guardiola distrust Kelechi Iheanacho?


With 20 year old goal scoring phenom Kelechi Iheanacho making most appearances off the bench for Manchester City, does this show Pep Guardiola doesn’t trust him?

I kind of feel a little sorry for Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola some times. He’s been under a microscope on just about everything, from the obvious to the obscene, from the day and hour he joined the club. His first day on the job?

Oh, don’t like that tweed jacket and skinny jeans combo, not very professional mate, should be stitched in to his City-branded cagoule like Manuel Pellegrini was. Played Sergio Aguero today? Should have played Kelechi Iheanacho. Played Iheanacho today? Should have played Aguero. Played them both? Should have played Nolito. And on and on it goes.

When it comes to Kelechi Iheanacho though, things are just a little bit less clear. The precocious Nigerian, City’s answer and more to Marcus Rashford, commands something of a soft spot for many Blues. He appeared on the scene last season under Pellegrini and scored some 8 goals in 753 minutes of football across 19 appearances of which only 7 were starts. A bright spark at the end of the dark tunnel of a season doomed to obscurity.

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Showing himself to be a proven commodity at scoring in the Premier League, indeed quite prolifically so given the low game time, was compounded by his youth at age 19 and long-term commitment to Manchester City from within their Elite Development Squad to the main team.

Proof, for all those who were looking for it, that there’s more to the Academy lads than just potential. Pellegrini was, rightly in many ways, lauded for giving Kelechi his chance to shine and sticking with him thereafter.

The problem is though, Pellegrini was offloaded in favour of that guy Pep, arguably the best football coach around, and the uncertainty over Kelechi’s future came with him. Despite that not being the end of the story, it seems many are further questioning Pep’s commitment to Iheanacho and, indeed, perhaps even whether he trusts his goal scoring acumen at all. City legend Sean Goater had this to say to bwin:

"“I’m sure he (Pep) thinks and says that Kelechi is a great talent but his actions say he doesn’t believe he’s good enough.You can’t bring him on with very little time to go to score a goal. Guardiola doesn’t trust him.”"

If you don’t quite see what Goater is getting at here, I don’t blame you. He admits that Kelechi is a “great talent”, makes a fair statement that perhaps Pep “doesn’t think he’s good enough” (yet) then makes the outlandish claim that by only bringing him on as a substitute it shows that he is untrusted.

No, Sean. Not bringing him on at all would show he’s untrusted. Or better yet, not even having him on the bench. Last season, Kelechi appeared over times as much as a substitute as he did as a starter (25 appearances, 7 as a starter) yet this season so far it’s not even twice(10 appearances, 6 as a starter). Don’t remember similar statements questioning Pellegrini’s trust in Kelechi last season, but I digress.

There’s a number of factors here. First of all, statistically, Iheanacho seems to make a far greater impact as a substitute. This should come as no surprise. He is easily marked right off the bat by Premier League defenders, but coming on late into the game his pace and knack for finding himself in the right place at the right time can and does cause all kinds of nightmares for tiring opposition defenders.

Secondly, and perhaps more clinically, it seems to me that Kelechi is getting as good, if not better, than can realistically be expected. He’s only 20, his peak still far off in the distance, and his game is only still being adapted and honed. Case in point, this season has seen Pep working on Kelechi’s contributions across the park, a common complaint about his performances under Pellegrini. These efforts have borne fruit, Iheanacho has already 3 assists to his name to go with his 6 goals in all competitions. He got only one in all of the 2015/2016 season.

It seems to me that Pep does trust Kelechi, but is more wary of his limitations and, as Pep is wont to do, ensures that there is no undue pressure being placed on his shoulders when he is yet to even become the superstar we all know he can be. Further, Guardiola would be tarred and feathered by the Manchester City faithful for side-lining Sergio Aguero for too long, with good reason too, he’s still among the best strikers in the game.

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Ultimately, Iheanacho is unlikely to be too perturbed. He’s on course to far exceed the number of starts, minutes and of course goals he accumulated last season. With Aguero always a candidate for injury, or this year suspension, he’s there as the natural fallback option and a game changer from the bench as required. That’s not demeaning, that’s inspiring. Pep trusts that Kelechi can get the goal City needs when he brings him on and, in that regard, he hasn’t let him down yet.