He was once touted as the next big thing to come out of the country, but a career that once offered so much promise is about to dwindle into oblivion unless he acts fast- This is the sad situation Kelechi Iheanacho finds himself in.
After impressing at the 2013 U-17 FIFA World Championship, where he won the golden ball award and silver shoe, Iheanacho became the darling of Nigerian football.
His performances at Abu Dhabi that year led many to believe the country’s long wait for a playmaker following the retirement of Austin Jay Jay Okocha may be coming to an end.
And that was why it was not a surprise to see clubs like Sporting Lisbon, Porto and Manchester City justling for his signature. It was the Citizens who eventually won the race for his signature- a move many felt was the wrong one for him, given the array of stars City have at their disposal.
However, it will be a lie if it was said Iheanacho was not given a chance to prove himself at the Etihad. In the 2015/2016 season under Manuel Pellegrini, Iheanacho started seven premier league games as an eighteen-year-old, while he substituted in on 19 occasions.
Although his chances reduced the following season under Pep Guardiola, he still managed 20 appearances that season. While many felt his decline started that season after he was played as a centre forward, Iheanacho got the chance to redeem his career as he was sold to Leicester in 2017 for 25m pounds.
The move to Leicester was supposed to put his career back on track, but that has not been the case. Since the move, his career has gone on a downward trajectory and it is about hit a rock bottom unless he acts fast.
Since he switched to the King Power Stadium, Iheanacho has made 51 appearances, scoring a meagre four goals for the Foxes. While it was said that Iheanacho struggled at City under Pep because he played as a centre forward, he has no excuses for his abysmal form at Leicester.
The Nigerian international has played under three managers at the club and they have all played him behind the striker- a position where his qualities are more effective.
However, the 22-year-old has failed to grasp these opportunities and that contributed to his omission from Super Eagles squad that went to the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.
Super Eagles manager, Gernot Rohr once complained about the striker’s attitude to training. “I think he must be more professional,” Rohr said in March.
“There’s a new coach at Leicester City (Brendan Rodgers) and it (his omission) will be an opportunity for Iheanacho to show during this international window that he wants to get back into the starting team of Leicester. “Personally, I think it’s a good thing for him to stay back at his club to prove this.
“It’s not good enough to be funny all the time. You must show that you are serious by working hard every day in the training sessions. “And show that you seriously want to come back into the team at the club and also with us.”
Although Rohr changed tune months later, saying he has changed, Iheanacho was still dropped from the squad that went to Egypt.
The omission seems to give him a kick up in the backside as he was brilliant for Leicester in the preseason, he will still need to leave the club if he is to get his career back on track.
In the three premier league games, the Foxes have played this season, Iheanacho has been an unused substitute twice and failed to make the matchday squad last weekend despite the club’s dearth of striking options. His absence last weekend suggests that Rodgers does not trust him, and it won’t be far fetched if one says his time at the club is up.
@67Kelechi, after matchday 3 in the Premier League this season :
Amount Earned: 153 million Naira pic.twitter.com/nLmY3F6rgT
— SoccernationNG (@soccernation_ng) August 25, 2019
With him not likely to get chances to prove himself at the club, it will be wise of the Imo state born player to leave England this summer in order to kickstart his career once again and move to a club where the spotlight will not be on him.
At the age of just 22, there’s still time for the former Manchester City star to revive his already waning career even before it started.
But with just less than ten days before the transfer window shuts down, Iheanacho will need to act fast if he wants to save what is left of a career that promised so much but has failed to fulfil its potential.