Kelechi Iheanacho breakthrough at Man City gives Pep Guardiola hope
Kelechi Iheanacho has become the shining example of the type of homegrown star that Manchester City are so desperate to produce after a stunning impact in his debut season. The 19-year-old has scored seven goals in five starts for City and can get even better under the tutelage of incoming manager Pep Guardiola -- a coach with a reputation for transforming exciting young talent into the best players in the world.
The Nigeria striker's breakthrough in his first Premier League season has seen him rack up a better goal-per-games ratio than any other striker in the league. Iheanacho only made his first appearance for the club in August and his five Premier League starts come alongside 19 appearances off the bench for a total of 610 minutes.
After he scored twice in Sunday's 4-2 defeat at Southampton, he now averages a goal every 87 minutes -- better than any other player to score more than two goals this season -- and even better than City teammate Sergio Aguero, who has taken 95 minutes per goal.
Tottenham's Harry Kane leads the Premier League goalscoring charts with 24 goals this season but has taken 129 minutes for each strike. Fellow England striker Jamie Vardy, who was named the Football Writers' Player of the Year on Monday, has taken 135 minutes per goal to reach his total of 22 in the Premier League.
Iheanacho's ratio is even better across all competitions. He has a further six goals in the domestic cup competitions, including his first-ever hat trick in the 4-0 FA Cup fourth round victory over Aston Villa on Jan. 30. That makes his strike record even more impressive: a goal every 82 minutes.
Such has been the youngster's emergence that Manuel Pellegrini had to readjust his Champions League squad in January to squeeze in the teenager with Samir Nasri dropping out after a long-term injury. While he has yet to make his first start in Europe, it will have been a big boost to Iheanacho that Pellegrini opted to bring him on early in last Tuesday's first leg 0-0 draw with Real Madrid after David Silva limped off in the first half with an injury.
He is unlikely to start the second leg at the Bernabeu on Wednesday but the Nigerian offers the City boss a major option from the bench as his side go in the search of an important away goal against the 10-time European Cup winners. Four of his goals this season have come as a substitute, including last-minute winners against Crystal Palace in September -- his first-ever goal for the club -- and Swansea City in December.
Iheanacho also appears to have leapfrogged fellow striker Wilfried Bony in the pecking order. The stats certainly back up that decision as Bony has not scored in 2016 and his four Premier League goals this season have come at a rate of one every 303 minutes.
Pellegrini revealed in January that he allowed strikers Stevan Jovetic and Edin Dzeko to leave the club in the summer to allow room for Iheanacho. "I see him working every day so I know what he can do during the game," he said. "Maybe I received some criticism for why we didn't replace Dzeko and Jovetic at the beginning of the season and I answered that we have Kelechi."
However, that makes it all the more curious why the Chilean hasn't used him even more. Iheanacho was in the starting lineup for the 4-0 victory over Stoke City on April 23 -- scoring twice and winning a penalty for Aguero to convert -- but that was his first Premier League start since Feb. 2.
Pellegrini has just three games left in charge at the Etihad -- four if City can get past Real Madrid to reach the Champions League final -- before he is replaced by Guardiola and the current Bayern boss will have watched the emergence of Iheanacho from Germany with great interest.
Among Guardiola's many tasks is to take emerging players from the club's Academy at their £200 million Etihad Campus and get them into the first-team, as the club tries to rein in their incredible spending of recent years.
The former Barcelona boss has a reputation for trusting young talent and, at the Camp Nou, he gave debuts to 15 youth team players in four years including Sergio Busquets, Thiago Alcantara and Sergi Roberto while allowing veteran forwards Ronaldinho and Samuel Eto'o to leave as he built his side around Lionel Messi.
It's been a similar story at Bayern this season where 19-year-old Kingsley Coman has started 19 Bundesliga games and Joshua Kimmich, 21, has started 23 matches in all competitions.
Iheanacho has been the only youth player to have been given a consistent opportunity in Pellegrini's three years at the club and is surely set to be a huge part of Guardiola's plans.
After a poor season that has seen City lose 10 of their 36 Premier League games and fail to beat any side from the top six, the Catalan will have plenty of areas to address when he takes charge in July. But with Iheanacho's impressive first season and the ever-reliable Aguero, at least scoring goals is one thing he doesn't need to worry about.
Jonathan is ESPN FC's Manchester City correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @jonnysmiffy.