George Ilenikhena – who is France’s youngest-ever Champions League goalscorer?

Wednesday night, George Ilenikhena (17) became France’s youngest-ever Champions League goalscorer, slotting home a Jelle Bataille (24) through ball in the calmest of fashions, thus sealing a 3-2 victory for Royal Antwerp against FC Barcelona at the 92nd minute.

At 17 years and 119 days, Ilenikhena beat the record set 30 minutes earlier by fellow wonderkid Warren Zaïre-Emery (17), who had scored in PSG’s decisive game against Borussia Dortmund. The previous record was held by Karim Benzema (35), who had scored in the competition back in 2005, when he was playing at Olympique Lyonnais, being 17 years and 352 days old at the time.

The Franco-Nigerian started his career at Antony Foot Evolution, a French club near Paris, before signing his first professional contract with Amiens SC. He then worked through the youth ranks, making his first appearances for the first team last season in Ligue 2. In total, he took part in 17 matches, starting three games and scoring two goals. His precocious goal-scoring ability caught the eye of several clubs, including the 22/23 Juplier Pro League champions Royal Antwerp, who obtained his signing in exchange for €6 million, which in retrospect already looks like a bargain.

The sky is the limit for Ilenikhena

Indeed, the striker is off to a flying start with Antwerp, for whom he has already scored four goals in 15 appearances in the JPL, scoring every 45 minutes in the league. His current role as a prolific super-sub isn’t without reminding Bayern Munich’s Mathys Tel (18), who has been getting his name on the scoresheet every 68 minutes in the Bundesliga. However, Ilenikhena has the benefit of playing in a smaller club, and a less competitive league, meaning there is more space for the youngster to pick up substantial game time and progress rapidly as a player. Only separated by one year of age, the two strikers could go on to fight for France’s starting number nine role in the future.

In terms of playstyle, the 17-year-old possesses a rapid burst of pace, which when combined with a well-timed run means his direct defender is often nowhere in sight when he receives the ball. Ilenikhena also has the non-negligible trait of being left-footed, which allows him to be unpredictable when taking on a defender, often cutting inside the outside to curl a shot towards the goal. At such a young age, George is also blessed with seemingly natural striker instincts, meaning his first touch is often space-creating, giving him extra time to fire a shot or play a teammate through.

The prodigy is part of a very exciting France 2006 generation, which includes the aforementioned WZE but also FC Lorient hot-prospect Eli Junior Kroupi (17) and u-17 World Cup finalists Mathis Lambourde (17), Mathis Amougou (17) and Bastien Meupiyou (17). Zaïre-Emery has already made an appearance for the France first team, while it shouldn’t be long before Ilenikhena and Kroupi get their first call-up with Thierry Henry’s u-21 squad, though George still has the choice to represent Nigeria if he wishes.

Another top talent for Royal Antwerp

The player is already worth €4.5 million by Transfermarkt, his value having gone up by €3.5 million since he joined the Belgian club in the summer window, making him already the joint ninth most valuable member of the squad, with exciting profiles such as Arthur Vermeeren (18) and Mandela Keita (21) leading the ranking. However, if his meteoric rise continues, no doubt Ilenikhena could a some point become the most valuable sale in the club’s history, the current record being held by Gastón Ávila’s (22) €12.5 million transfer to Ajax Amsterdam last August.

The next test for him will be this Sunday’s domestic match-up against second-place Anderlecht, where he’ll be hoping to get his first start of the season.

GFFN | Alfred Lalande

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