19-year-old Nigeria and Manchester City striker Kelechi Iheanacho has opened up on the hardship he felt as a youngster in an interview with the DailyMail UK.
Brought up poor, he could barely afford N50 to watch English premiership football. Today his story has changed for good.
Iheanacho has flourished in this season’s FA Cup with nine goals already under his belt in an excellent debut year, Man City’s squad and fans were chanting ‘Ihean-atch-io’ after he scored a hat-trick against Aston Villa.
According to him: ‘We didn’t have the money,’ he says. ‘Maybe after the game I’d hear the scores and all that. I’d be at home playing football and my friends would come back after being there to tell me. We didn’t have a television at home.’
‘Sometimes I watched the Spanish league — it was a bit cheaper, maybe 30 naira,’ he adds. ‘But the Premier League was 50. Sometimes I’d watch the Premier League if I found the money, or I’d go there and beg them to let me in. Or sneak in for the second half and pay half the money.
‘I support Barcelona because I watched the Spanish league. I saw Yaya [Toure] playing for Barcelona… and now I’m playing with him. It’s a dream come true.
‘I have to be my own man but he is a big influence in Africa. He has done a lot in Africa and I hope to do that as well.’
Toure, along with fellow Ivorian Wilfried Bony, took Iheanacho under his wing when City manager Manuel Pellegrini unexpectedly refused to sign a striker last summer because there was an academy lad capable of stepping up without the need to gain experience by going out on loan.
Early in his career Iheanacho had been due to sign for Porto but he has no regrets on turning his back on the Portuguese club when City came knocking two years ago.
His father James persuaded him to move to City with them paying Nigeria’s Taye Academy £350,000 after scouts were impressed with the striker at the Under 17 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates where he was named player of the tournament.
Iheanacho admits finding that drive did not come easily at school, even though his mother, Mercy, was a teacher. She passed away in 2013, a few months before his life-changing Under 17 World Cup, and her memory serves as a constant source of determination.
‘It was hard for us when my mother left us,’ Iheanacho reflects, suddenly holding back tears. ‘We couldn’t do anything so I said to myself “move on and keep working hard. She makes me work harder. When I’m not doing something right, or when I’m not playing or working hard enough, then I remember her. She pushed me to work hard.
‘It’s amazing when you go back home now, when you remember how you were before. You go back home and all those people are calling your name, shouting. I get mobbed by the kids. They want to see you, want to know you.’