Kelechi Iheanacho has always been linked with goals, but the last 18 months have been a testing time for the Golden Ball and Silver Boot winner from the 2013 FIFA U-17 World Cup.
In the UAE in 2013, he scored six goals and gave seven assists. Manchester City and Manuel Pellegrini had so much regard for the youngster that they brought him in 2014.
They touted him as the next big thing and the promise and hope in the Nigerian caused prolific Bosnian, Edin Dzeko, to depart England for Italy in 2015.
In the 2015/16 EPL season, Iheanacho played 26 games (the best league total he has had to date) and scored eight goals. In those 26 appearances, 19 were as a substitute. Those totals-games and goals have been his best.
When he left City under Pep Guardiola, who preferred Gabriel Jesus for Leicester City, the plan was for Iheanacho to bed in and gradually take over the goal-scoring mantle from the prolific Jamie Vardy.
That has not happened. In 87 league games since the start of the 2017/18 EPL season, Iheanacho has scored just 13 times while Vardy in the same period has played 131 games and scored 73 goals. The contrast in numbers starkly paints the image of where the Nigerian is and where Leicester hope he can attain.
But by equal strokes of luck and mishap for other teammates like James Maddison and Harvey Barnes and needs for Champions League-chasing Leicester, Brendan Rodgers had to give the left-footed ace a run of games in tandem with Vardy and it has paid off in droves. In the last three matches, which have fetched Leicester seven points, Iheanacho scored a hat-trick against Sheffield United, which made it five goals in his last three games. His EPL total for the season is six!
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— Leah (@lcfcleah) March 14, 2021
He joins an elite group of Nigerians who have achieved this milestone. Nwankwo Kanu, Osaze Odemwingie, Yakubu Aiyegbeni, and Efan Ekoku.
In 76 starts in all competitions for Manchester City and Leicester City, Iheanacho has been directly involved in 51 goals. “His quality is beginning to come through,” said former Manchester United forward, Andy Cole, on television as a pundit while Rodgers lauded him for his movement and technicality.” I am delighted for (Iheanacho). I have said I can see an improvement in him and day on day he trains so hard.
“Him up there with Jamie (Vardy) is a real good combination. It was three good finishes, he’s clever and drops into space we want him to but overall, his contribution tactically and overall game was very good.” But Iheanacho dropped a clear hint on how he enjoys his game-playing in a fluid attacking formation that does not require a rigid No.9. in the post-match interview when he was asked about the seemingly good connection between him, Vardy, and Ayoze Perez, he said, “That is what happens when three strikers play in the same game.”
What has been clear over the last three games is that Iheanacho performs better in a fluid front two than when he is saddled with the sole No.9 spot. His goals-to-assist statistics show he performs better when he can also create for a partner.
In the EPL, he has scored 27 goals and provided 16 assists, and the total as a professional in Europe reads 56 matches and 28 assists.
With nine games left in the EPL and at least the FA quarter-final against Manchester United, Iheanacho will hope to continue producing the goals for Leicester to help them achieve the season’s goal, which is to qualify for the Champions League.
If his goals help the Foxes achieve this, he can start the 2021/22 season in a better frame of mind and in better standing with management, ready to come good on the potential he showed in Dubai in 2013.