The 2013 FIFA U-17 World Cup winner at the weekend became only the fifth Nigerian player to net a hat-trick in the English top-flight, eliciting a positive reaction from his international manager
Gernot Rohr has revealed that he always believed in Kelechi Iheanacho and the striker’s capacity to progress even when the Leicester City man was not enjoying regular playing time at the club.
The special connection between Rohr and Iheanacho can be traced back to 2016 when the then-Manchester City man scored the winning goal for Nigeria in the German tactician’s first-ever game in charge of the Super Eagles – a 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying match against Tanzania.
Iheanacho has scored six more goals for Nigeria under Rohr’s tutelage, with two of those in the qualification rounds of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
The former Golden Eaglets hero was part of the Nigerian squad that couldn’t make it past the group stages of the Mundial, but he was shockingly dropped from the Super Eagles team that won the bronze medal at 2019 Afcon in Egypt.
2018/19 wasn’t especially a great year for Iheanacho, with the young striker hitting blanks in 11 appearances for Nigeria while managing a solitary strike in 30 league showings for Leicester City.
But the 24-year-old smashed home a stunning hat-trick for the Foxes against Sheffield United at the weekend to make it ten goals in all competitions already for Brendan Rodgers’ side this term.
It is a sweet turnaround for Iheanacho and a pleasing development that excites Rohr, who insists he never lost faith in the striker even when he was misfiring for club and country.
“We are very happy that Kelechi scored three goals for Leicester City against Sheffield United,” Rohr told NationSport.
“These goals will give him confidence and more games with Leicester.
“He was in our group last year even when he didn’t play in his club because we believe in his capacity to progress.
“He is used to pressure now.”
Iheanacho’s last goal for Nigeria came in the Super Eagles’ 1-1 draw against Tunisia in an international friendly match played in Austria on October 13, 2020.
The Foxes forward is one of the three strikers – including Napoli’s Victor Osimhen and Almeria’s Umar Sadiq – that could lead the attack when Nigeria face the Benin Republic in an Afcon qualifier on March 27.