Kelechi Iheanacho is a young man who is fortunate to find himself in the soccer hall of fame.
However, his struggle in life as a youth was filled with challenges despite all that Iheanacho represented Taye Academy in Owerri.
His performances for Nigeria in the 2013 FIFA U-17 World Cup led to interest from clubs in Europe. Teams following his progress included Arsenal, Sporting Clube de Portugal and Porto.
In December 2013, Iheanacho travelled to England to discuss a move to Manchester City where he signed a pre-contract agreement with the club, stating his intent to formally sign for Manchester City on his 18th birthday in October 2014.
In the interim, he returned to Nigeria, as the year drew to a close, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) named him the Most Promising Talent of the Year for 2013 during the CAF Awards.
His mother, Mercy, died some years ago precisely in February after a short illness, her death meant that the young footballer would have to depend heavily on his father.
According to Kelechi Iheanacho, he said: ‘My father (James) was a trader and my mum was a teacher, but she was laid to rest a few years ago which was really hard for all of us.
‘I have two brothers and a sister back in Nigeria as well. Everything I do, I do for my mum and my family that’s what drives me.
‘My dad is back home and I’m living on my own in Manchester at the moment.
‘But I think a lot of kids back home have been encouraged by what’s happened to me and by where I am today.
They can’t believe what I’ve achieved at just 19 years of age and it further gives them the belief that they can make it too.’
Manchester City fought off competition from FC Porto and Sporting Lisbon to agree on a pre-contract with Iheanacho but had a long wait before completing the signing and securing a work permit.
He added: ‘I’d played a few games at the Under-17 World Cup finals, and that’s when I agreed on a deal with City. In all honesty, I didn’t know that much about the club at the time.
‘I was close to signing for FC Porto where I really wanted to go.
The city is such a big team with so many fantastic players, I didn’t believe I’d have a future here. But my father did and he gave me the confidence I needed. I’m happy I took his advice.’
‘I first heard of City’s interest when I was with Nigeria for the World Under-17 qualifiers,” he said.
“When we finished the qualification process, I had a few scouts approaching me and telling me I had quite a few clubs interested in signing me but I didn’t want to sign for anyone at that time, I just wanted to enjoy my football.”
Today, Iheanacho’s consistency and goal poaching instinct have forced him to claim a first-team shirt ahead of established midfield players like Samir Nasri whose nagging injury woes has continued for some time now.
The giant leap of Kelechi, as his friends fondly call him, from the grassroots to one of the biggest clubs in the world has continued to elicit hope from young struggling footballers across Africa.