Weekends in Nigeria often follow a pattern. Hundreds of men, women and children crowd around televisions desperately trying to catch a glimpse of any English football. In one part of the country in particular, crowds will be out in force on Sunday for Manchester City's FA Cup fifth-round tie at Chelsea and with the chance to watch one of their own - City striker Kelechi Iheanacho.
Despite being 4,500 miles away from Stamford Bridge these devoted fans in Imo, the Nigerian state where the teenager was born, will pay 50 naira - about 20p - to squeeze around a TV in the hope of seeing him. They are the lucky ones.
As a child, Iheanacho was not so lucky and in his first major newspaper interview since bursting onto the scene this season, the 19-year-old reveals the hardship he felt as a youngster.
Brought up in what he describes as a ‘poor area’, he was one of the worse-off kids and could rarely afford even 20p to watch football.
Iheanacho has flourished in this season’s FA Cup, scoring at Norwich in the third round before a hat-trick against Aston Villa in the fourth. City’s squad signed his match ball and could be heard singing the fans’ chant of ‘Ihean-atch-io’ inside the Villa Park dressing room while their shy star performed media duties outside.
With nine goals already under his belt in an excellent debut year, he is ready to lead the line for City at Stamford Bridge but has no recollection of ever seeing an FA Cup tie back home.
‘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.’
Iheanacho is quiet at first, not entirely comfortable with opening up about his childhood, his knees twitching as he explains that his family would use what little money they had on bread rather than luxuries like television.
It is a demeanour far removed from the nerveless striker who belies his teenage years on the pitch.
On the pitch Iheanacho comes across as a nerveless young star, but off it he is shy and quiet
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 the ‘very cold’ north west of England with City 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.
Then came a short stint at MLS side Columbus Crew in 2014 before Pellegrini put him on the bench at West Bromwich Albion on the opening weekend this season. He has not looked back.
‘I wasn’t expecting that,’ he says. ‘I was working with the EDS [Elite Development Squad]. He said I was going with them to Australia in pre-season and after we came back I was in the first team. I was a bit surprised.
‘You feel a bit nervous, these are great players. It’s important to listen.
‘I’m happy playing with them now and they give me confidence to play, they encourage me a lot. That doesn’t mean I’ll disrespect them or feel I’m one of them now. I wouldn’t just do anything I liked — I’ve got to keep my head down, keep working hard.’
Man City Star Iheanacho Souldn't Afford 20p To Watch Premier League When He Was Growing Up In Nigeria
4/ 5Oleh Indira Tanisyah