When Nigeria won the FIFA U17 World Cup in the UAE in 2013 one player stood out for the Golden Eaglets – Kelechi Iheanacho. Fitting that he was voted the Most Valuable Player at the end. Many Nigerians felt that finally the country has found a successor to Kanu Nwankwo and JJ Okocha in terms of a creator and scorer of goals.
Iheanacho eventually joined Man City in the English Premier League and his role changed. From the City youth team it was clear that he has been moved to be a striker, “a top 9”. Even though he had good numbers in terms of goals-to-games ratio, the arrival of Pep Guardiola and with him the Brazilian, Gabriel Jesus, meant the end of the Nigerian at City.
A move to Leicester City in the summer had many Nigerians hoping he will play regularly but it has not turned out quite like that. Was Iheanacho wrong to move to the Premier League to start with? “Absolutely not” says his coach at the U17 level, former Barcelona and Nigerian World Cup star, Emmanuel Amuneke. “In terms of ability, Kele (Iheanacho) can play in any league in the world even at that time he moved to City” Amuneke was in conversation with aclsports.com during the launch of the BBC African Footballer of the Year Award in London.
Is it his current position as a striker that is the problem? Watford forward and Iheanacho’s team mate at the U17 level Isaac Success believes that “to enjoy Kele, you have to play him in the hole behind the striker. His vision, his ability to spot a run is amazing. He is the best player I have played with”.
Amuneke continues “his talent is not in doubt; he just needs to work hard, listen to what his manager wants – because I know he is a humble boy – and he will be back to the Kele we all know and love. He will be fine”.
Leicester City’s manager Claude Puel has implied that he might be prepared to let Iheanacho leave in January as “we have many players for the striker role and we have players who truly deserve game time. So some might be allowed to leave if they so desire”.
Should Iheanacho decide to move in January it will be important he goes to where he can play regularly as Nigeria needs him match fit going into the world cup next summer.