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Nigeria’s on-form duo Kelechi Iheanacho and Alex Iwobi nominated for Europe’s prestigious young player award

Kelechi Iheanacho and Alex Iwobi have been nominated for the 2016 Golden Boy award, given to the most outstanding young player in Europe. The award was founded in 2003 by Italian newspaper, Tuttosport and is decided by a panel of 30 journalists.

Iheanacho and Iwobi have been exemplary for their current English Premier League (EPL) clubs- Manchester City and Arsenal respectively. The Nigerian duo were promoted to first team football last season and have since maintained an impressive start to their football career.

Iheanacho: Manchester City’s goal-hungry striker

Iheanacho has grabbed every chance at first team football, with both hands and is eager to become the next prolific striker for his club. The 19-year-old made his mark for City last season, netting 14 goals in 35 appearances in all competitions.

The Nigerian international who signed a new two-year contract extension that extends his stay to 2021, is becoming a formidable striking force in the EPL.

The striker has been an influential force behind City’s dominating start to the season, filling in well for Sergio Aguero as the Argentinian’s perfect replacement.

In a post-derby match interview with Manchester Evening News following City’s 2-1 win over Manchester United, City’s new coach, Pep Guardiola said, “He was the only striker we had in that moment. I thought I had many other options – but I thought in the beginning to show to my players that I came to win the game.”

Iheanacho set up the first goal and scored the second against United, making history as City’s youngest goal scorer in the EPL era of the derby. He also became the first Nigerian to appear in the fixture.

“It means a whole lot to me. It’s a dream come true to play in the Manchester derby and score the winning goal,” Iheanacho told Sky Sports.

The Nigerian’s rise to stardom is not only felt at club level. He scored a delightful goal during a 1-0 win against Tanzania, in a 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier. The wonder strike earned him CNN goal of the week award in September.

“Congratulations to the latest CNN Goal of the Week winner, Kelechi Iheanacho!” CNN Football wrote on their official Twitter handle.

But it is not the first time the Nigerian has been rewarded at international level. Prior to that, Iheanacho stood out in Nigeria’s successful FIFA U-17 World Cup campaign in Abu Dhabi in 2013, scoring six goals and winning the Golden Ball for the best player of the tournament.

The sky is the limit for Iheanacho who is determined to step up to the challenge and become City’s go-to striker.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]”If I get picked I’m going to do my job.  Games like this mean a lot and it doesn’t come bigger than a derby,”[/perfectpullquote]

Iheanacho said, as quoted by The Sun prior to the derby match.

Iwobi: Arsenal’s assist King 

Iwobi’s rise up the ranks was not as instantaneous as his Nigerian counterpart. The attacker’s impact on the Arsenal team was doubtful to many but the Nigerian has since proven many wrong, registering a solid presence in recent weeks for his club.

Dubbed ‘intelligent’ by his peers, former Arsenal legends and coach, Iwobi initially had to patiently make a name for himself in spite of early football exposure.

“I was almost released at 14, again at 16 and just about got a professional contract after that,” Iwobi told Standard Sport. “Especially at 14, I thought I was very close to not making it. It was stressful as I was going through school, trying to balance that and make sure I was still signed for Arsenal. It was really difficult for me.”

Turning nine, Iwobi joined Arsenal’s Academy on schoolboy term and has since graduated to the senior team. Injuries affected his form and risked his playing time but the Nigerian managed to steadily recover and regain a start-up spot in the team.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said, “At the start nobody talked too much about him, because he does his job very well. But now people reside more and more that he can play at a high pace, that he has real quality, he works for the team, and when it comes to distributing the ball, he does that very intelligently.”

Last season, the Nigerian youngster had an impressive run and became one of the club’s most promising players from the youth ranks with over 15 appearances for club. His quick pace, impressive vision and eye for defensive penetration in his recent performances, has earned him praise.

“I started him last year because I’ve seen that there’s something in him that is quality of vision, quality of give and go, of movement,” Wenger said.

Iwobi has developed into a finesse player. His on-field connection with Mezut Ozil – renown for splitting defenses – has the German maestro comparing him to his (Iwobi) uncle and mentor, Jay-Jay Okocha.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“He reminds me of his uncle Jay-Jay Okocha. He was a player I loved watching. Alex reminds me of a mixture of him and Edgar Davids. He’s really strong on the ball, also defensively, but he’s good in front of goal too. He’s developing really well and if he continues the way he’s been playing for the whole season, he will enhance his game. The manager knows exactly how good he is and I wish him all the best,”[/perfectpullquote]

said Ozil.

Iwobi’s role on pitch is neither direct nor statistically relevant, but he has played a deep and significant role in the build up towards securing a win for his club. Wenger believes in the steady rise of his latest youth prospect and has praised Iwobi’s maturity and attitude.

“Alex has a discreet way of assessing his place in the team. He doesn’t talk a lot and he’s not what you’d call a flashy player. He’s a player who connects the team, and that’s why I think he’s integrated so quickly – because our game is based on those combinations,” said Wenger.

Both players are exceptional under the management of two of the world’s most renown coaches. A nomination for an award won by some of the world’s best players – Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Paul Pogba – is a huge motivation for the Nigerian duo.

Nigerians took to twitter to sing praises applauding the players’ performances. Both players are highly regarded as proud ambassadors of football for the nation.




Featured Photo: Kelechi Iheanacho and Alex Iwobi are 2016 Golden Boy award nominees (GETTY IMAGES)

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