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 By Colin Udoh

Kelechi Iheanacho at a career crossroads at Manchester City

Kelechi Iheanacho
Only 20 years of age,  Kelechi Iheanacho needs to find a place where he can be assured of regular game time.

Kelechi Iheanacho has returned to the crossroads of his Manchester City career. Just before the beginning of the season, the Nigeria international turned down the chance to participate at the Olympic Games in order to focus on impressing new manager Pep Guardiola and secure his precarious place in the City first team.

That decision proved to be a good one, as it not only allowed him to meet the boss ahead of the new season, but also to receive the reassurances he needed.

A rosy beginning led to three goals in seven appearances, including the winner in the Manchester derby last September when he started in the absence of Sergio Aguero. There were to be no further goals for another nine games, until his final strike in a 3-0 win over Hull City on Boxing Day.

Since then, Iheanacho has barely been on the pitch, and the arrival of Gabriel Jesus meant the Nigerian's opportunities were even more severely restricted. The Brazilian joined during the January transfer window, and his explosive start of three goals in four games meant Iheanacho was not even listed on the match day 18 for those games!

A broken metatarsal appears to have ruled the South American out for the rest of the season, which means the young Super Eagle gets another chance to stake his claim for first team security, if only as a plan B.

But with regular, first team football being the reason he shunned Nigeria's participation at the Olympic Games, and being a key component of Gernot Rohr's Super Eagles offense, occasional action will not cut it for Iheanacho. Neither will being a backup plan to two strikers.

Nigeria resume World Cup qualifying in August with two potentially bruising games against recently crowned African champions Cameroon. To remain an integral and effective part of that offensive line, Iheanacho needs games. And if Pep Guardiola's Manchester City will not offer him that, then he needs to look elsewhere during the summer.

A close associate of the player told ESPNFC that the 20-year-old is weighing his options

"Obviously, he wants to play football regularly. He will probably get games between now and the end of the season, but when the summer window opens, we will have to look at what is available out there from a football point of view."

A move away from the Etihad in the summer, according to the associate, is a very strong possibility for the young Nigerian

"Enquiries have come in already and Manchester City know this," Iheanacho's associate said. "The boy wants to play and if he gets the opportunity elsewhere, whether on loan or permanently, as long as he gets a chance to play every week, we will give it very serious consideration."

Kelechi Iheanacho has not played much of late and with the arrival of Gabriel Jesus his days at Man City may be numbered.

It is in the both the player's interest and that of Nigeria for him to do so, with his City career seemingly heading towards stagnation with Jesus and Aguero ahead in the striker hierarchy. But even if he moves, Iheanacho must understand that irrespective of where he ends up, his game time will be in direct proportion to his productivity.

For all of the hype surrounding Gabriel, the Brazilian arrived and hit it off instantly when he was thrown in at the deep end.

That is what Iheanacho needs to do. Scoring the occasional goal will not do. An instinctive player and scorer, the youngster needs to work on his movement, his decision-making, his confidence, but more importantly, his first touch.

Much of those skills come from regular game time, others from training field work. However it comes, Nigeria needs Kelechi to be on top of his game by August.

On the return flight back from the opening day victory against Zambia, Iheanacho with Arsenal's Alex Iwobi sitting beside him, said he was determined to make it to, and play at the World Cup in Russia.

It's a lofty and commendable dream, but it requires hard graft and ruthless, career saving decisions. And for him, now is the time to make the first of such calls.

Colin Udoh is a Nigeria football correspondent for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @ColinUdoh.


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