In the midst of quietened reactions to visible omissions from the list of twenty-three players called up by Super Eagles coach Gernot Rohr on Monday, the one that could not go unnoticed is that of Leicester City forward Kelechi Iheanacho; an omission many believe is long overdue.
Kelechi Promise Iheanacho showed enormous promise when he led a talented group of Nigerian Under 17s to global conquest in United Arab Emirates in 2013. Almost six years on, the 22-year old and to a large extent, virtually every member of what has almost turned “an entitled generation” have failed to take their promises to the next level.
Perhaps like the Nigerian version of the Morning Star, Iheanacho – the Golden Ball winner in the 2013 tournament – stood out of that generation, earning a move to Manchester City but in spite of a blossoming start at the Citizens, a move to Leicester orchestrated what has become a fall from brightness to dreariness in the past two seasons.
Our phobia for competition as Nigerians gives me concern. Leicester for Kelechi doesn't look as good as many Nigerians see it, to me.
— Fisayo Dairo (@FisayoDairo) August 3, 2017
During the period of Iheanacho’s gradual slope down to mediocrity though, one thing remained constant – his continued invitation to the Super Eagles. Mr Rohr in his trademark blind loyalty scheme stuck with this undoubtedly talented star who was absolutely phenomenal in Rohr’s first game in charge of the team – a 1-0 win over Tanzania in Uyo in August 2016.
Iheanacho is so loved by many that every poor display of his (especially with the Super Eagles) comes with readymade excuses and explanations on why everyone or every thing else is to be blamed but him. From the coach’s tactical ineptitude, to the horror pitch in Port Harcourt or the slippery surface in St Petersburg; they are all to blame, certainly not the Golden Boy.
It is well over 15 months now that Iheanacho last made a meaningful contribution to the Super Eagles; in a 4-2 friendly win over Argentina in November 2017. A performance like the one in Krasnodar reminds one of such immense potentials held by Iheanacho but which have largely remained in the harbouring realm.
Painful that Iheanacho has turned a liability in the Super Eagles. He doesn't actually do anything on the pitch anymore- nothing.
— Akawor Duwem (@D_WarEagle) November 11, 2017
With Gernot Rohr eventually summoning his courage to drop Iheanacho and Bryan Idowu – one other player whose best game for the Eagles was on his debut in Krasnodar – the message should be clear to the forward that not only has his contributions to the team become pedestrian, his form at club level which should shape his international conditioning needs urgent surgical attention as well.
Former Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers resumed with the Foxes last week following the sack of Iheanacho’s former boss Claude Puel. With a lot of youngsters, especially the ones growing from the club’s academy expected to enjoy enough playing time, this Eagles omission should send that timely message of a nonnegotiable revival for Iheanacho to wake up and smell the coffee in all areas.
Some school of thought also believe that his omission from the squad to face Seychelles and Egypt might even be some blessing to his club career as that period of the international break should avail him extra two weeks of close work with Rodgers. If that does not help his form at club level, it is hard to see what would.
It should also be clear to Iheanacho that bouncing back into recognition under Rohr after a player might have fallen out of it has always been difficult if available records in his handling of the Super Eagles is anything to go by. Names like Kingsley Madu, Nosa Igiebor, Anderson Esiti, Uche Agbo and Elderson Echiejile to mention a few never got looked into again once they were dropped by the Franco-German trainer.
Iheanacho’s case might be different though as neither Nigerians nor the trainer can forget in a hurry the embedded promise the forward holds. However, with more Nigerian forwards including Iheanacho’s teammate at Under-17 level Taiwo Awoniyi, newly invited Paul Onuachu and Victor Osimhen virtually at their best form at the moment, Iheanacho must understand that his place at the Africa Cup of Nations is at stake.
No other warning or message could be louder than this from Gernot Rohr who has taken the pain to drop Iheanacho out of the squad for the first time since he took charge. As reflected in this write up, his talent and ability is never in doubt but it is all up to him now to work hard within a short period of time lest he watches what should have been his first AFCON tournament, Egypt 2019 on Imo State Broadcasting Televison.