Outside the top five leagues, there are several other leagues that, in recent years, have produced several exciting young stars of the game. The Belgian league is one such league. Two years back, the league’s name came on everyone’s lips when promoted side Royale Union Saint-Gilloise won the regular season, a remarkable feat. This season, however, it’s the rise of a young gem touted as one of football’s young stars. George Ilenikhena is only 17 but is the only positive for Royal Antwerp, who are seventh in the league table.
Despite being of such a young age, George Ilenikhena has displayed a maturity far beyond his years. And with Royal Antwerp performing far below the standards, it will not be long before other clubs pounce to sign the talented youngster.
But who is George Ilenikhena, and how good is he?
Who is George Ilenikhena
George Ilenikhena was born on August 16, 2006, in Lagos, the capital of Nigeria. He would only live in Nigeria until age three, as his parents chose to migrate to France in 2009. His parents chose Antony, a suburb in western Paris, as their residence. It was here that Ilenikhena started his footballing career at the local club Antony PE.
He would spend 12 years at the club, rising among the youth ranks. However, Antony PE was still only an amateur club, so Ilenikhena would have to move to a professional club with a superior youth structure to hone his skills.
That opportunity finally arrived in 2021 when Amiens, which plies its trade in the French second-tier league, admitted him to their under-17 squad. Joining a professional club saw a massive increase in the quality of football. Ilenikhena, however, took the challenge head-on, scoring 24 goals for them.
He also played in the under-18 tournament Coupe Gambardella, scoring one goal in his only appearance.
George Ilenikhena stats
His impressive debut for the under-17s caught the eyes of the senior hierarchy at the club, who swiftly promoted him to the under-19s while also giving him some appearances for the reserve and first team. For the under-19s, Ilenikhena would score six goals against teams such as Paris Saint Germain.
However, it was his two goals in Ligue 2 that showed that he was an exceptional talent who could reach great heights. His incredible performance came to the notice of Royal Antwerp, who had finished third in the 2022-23 regular season, three points behind first-place Genk.
And while Royal Antwerp have performed well below expectations, Ilenikhena has been in fine form. With just 258 minutes on the pitch, the Nigerian has scored five goals, averaging almost 52 minutes per strike. He is the team’s second-highest scorer despite playing the fourth-fewest minutes across the team. His Expected Goals (xG) tally was also 3.09, which means he has overperformed on the metric by 61.81 per cent. However, his finest moment came in the UEFA Champions League where he scored against FC Barcelona.
George Ilenikhena style of play
With the stats that he posted this season, the best word to describe the teenager is an ‘accurate finisher’. His heat map also shows an interesting picture. Like any other striker, Ilenikhena spends a lot of time in the penalty box. However, he also has a significant presence inside the right channel. This is further validated by the fact that he has been among the best in his teams in terms of shooting, aerials, and carries.
His ball-carrying ability is the most important asset, proving that he is a well-rounded striker, even at a young age. His goal conversion rate of 31.3 per cent is also something that shows that he has the ability to become a world-class striker in a few years.
He has also created four chances for his team, which shows that his hold-up play can also be improved in recent years.
— Royal Antwerp FC (@official_rafc) January 4, 2024
George Ilenikhena potential
George Ilenikhena might not be playing among the best leagues compared to his peers the same age. However, he has performed far beyond expectations in each season that he has played right from when he joined Amiens’ under-17 side.
Ilenikhena is also 17 and playing in a senior league, which will definitely improve his quality. However, the onus for him should be to quickly move to a top-five league club, as it is evident that his talent is too good for the Jupiler League.
The youngster has expressed his interest in joining Manchester United, and to follow in the footsteps of his idol Cristiano Ronaldo. Can he, however, continue his amazing rate of development is the major question that will decide whether he becomes a star or not.