Kelechi Iheanacho is just 24-years-old, but the Nigerian striker has had a rollercoaster career since he made his senior debut.
Iheanacho’s talents were first spotted at the 2013 U-17 FIFA World Cup in the United Arab Emirates. The Nigerian international won the Golden Ball and the Silver boot to help the Golden Eaglets win her fourth world title.
Iheanacho became a man in demand following that tournament as a host of top clubs in Europe were interested in signing him.
After a year, the then 17-year-old signed for Manchester City. The move raised eyebrows as many believed it could hamper his development due to the quality City had in their squad.
Iheanacho joined City’s Academy in January 2015, but he linked up with the first team the following season. The Nigerian international made his debut for the Citizens in the 2015/2016 season and scored his first goal in a Premier League win over Crystal Palace.
Iheanacho started only 11 games that season, but he still delivered impressive numbers. The Super Eagles star scored eight goals and notched two assists in 26 league appearances, while he also scored two in the League Cup and four in the FA Cup.
His debut season with the first team went well, and it was hoped he would build on that the following season.
But things took a wrong turn in his second season as Manuel Pellegrini was sacked after the 2015/2016 campaign with Pep Guardiola brought in to replace him.
Guardiola’s arrival reduced Iheanacho’s game time- although he still scored four league goals, while he also scored twice in the Champions League and had one goal to his name in the FA Cup. However, at the end of the 2015/2016 campaign, it was obvious Iheanacho had to leave to fulfil his potential.
The Nigerian striker joined Leicester City in August 2017 on a five-year deal for a reported fee of £25 million. While Leicester were not on the same pedestal as Man City, the move offered Iheanacho more freedom and less pressure.
But Iheanacho did not really get going at the King Power Stadium, scoring just eight goals and registering four assists in 28 games in his first season for the Foxes.
Nonetheless, despite his underwhelming season, Iheanacho was part of the Nigerian squad that went to the 2018 World Cup- though he failed to score in all of Nigeria’s three games.
The 2018/2019 season offered a renewed hope for Iheanacho, but it proved to be his worst to date, scoring just two goals in all competitions.
It got worse as he was left out of Nigeria’s 2019 Africa Cup of Nations squad. The 24-year-old’s career reached a new low in his third season at the King Power Stadium as he failed to make a league appearance in the first four months.
But just as things were going south for him, Iheanacho’s redemption came on December 1st, 2019, notching an assist and scoring the winner as Leicester City came from behind to beat Everton.
That moment proved to be a turning point as he scored ten goals in 26 games for the Foxes. Although following last season, there were still rumours of him leaving, he ended up staying.
And his strong finish to last season has spurred him on this campaign. While he did not score a league goal in the first half of the year, he still managed three goals and four assists in the Europa League group stages.
But it’s the start of the new year that has brought out the best of Iheanacho. The Nigerian international is a man reborn and has been on an incredible run of form.
He has always played second fiddle to Jamie Vardy in the Leicester setup, but Foxes manager Brendan Rodgers made a tweak to his tactics this year by pairing both players together, and that has brought Iheanacho success.
The 24-year-old scored his first league goal against Fulham back in February, but it’s his form this month that has shown he’s now fulfilling the promise he showed as a teenager.
The former Manchester City man has scored seven times in his last four games, starting with a superb volley against Burnley.
He also scored against Brighton in the FA Cup and League, respectively. But the best of the bunch was his hat-trick against Sheffield United. The latest is a brace against Manchester United in the FA Cup.
It’s not only his goals that have made Iheanacho the man of the moment, but also his all-round play. The Nigerian has combined well with Vardy upfront and has created three big chances during this period.
15 – Kelechi Ịheanachọ has now had a direct hand in 15 goals in his 15 starts across all competitions this season (11 goals, 4 assists), eight of which have come in his last four matches (7 goals, 1 assists). Eagle. pic.twitter.com/jXxMJAywwx
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 21, 2021
The confidence in Iheanacho’s game can be seen in the game against Manchester United when he controlled a ball from the back with a brilliant first touch before setting up Vardy with a pass.
He would hope to bring this form onto the international scene, which gives Super Eagles manager Gernot Rohr the chance to try out a new style.
The German tactician has always preferred the traditional 4-3-3 formation with Osimhen supported by two wingers.
However, with Iheanacho in such a brilliant form, Rohr could try to pair the duo together upfront, similar to his partnership with Vardy at Leicester.
The former Bordeaux manager can take a tip from Rodgers, who has found the best way to get the best out of the Nigerian.
Speaking after the win over Man Utd, Rodgers revealed Kelechi is at his best when he partners someone in the attack.
“Kelechi has always contributed. Maybe his confidence was lower, but he works so hard every day and always comes in and gives his all. You see his confidence now. He’s at the top of his game.
“It’s a different structure [up front]. Kelechi is probably best with someone up there with him. Those two are working very well.
Rohr can also try this approach in Nigeria’s games this month instead of playing the former Manchester City man alone in attack.
From his Golden Eaglets days, Iheanacho has shown he’s better-suited playing with a traditional striker up front.
And like Vardy, Osimhen also likes to stay on the defenders’ shoulders and uses his speed effectively to run in behind defences, which means a partnership with Iheanacho should work.
And with the three-time African champions already without Moses Simon, there’s no better time for Rohr to tweak his style.
Nigeria needs just a point from their final Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers against the Benin Republic and Lesotho, which means an Iheanacho and Osimhen partnership is something Rohr can try in either of those clashes.
Nonetheless, irrespective of where he plays in these games, it’s a good thing to see Iheanacho in the sort of form that made him one of the hottest prospects in the world, and hopefully, it continues.