Can the new Kelechi Iheanacho replace Jamie Vardy?
Background photo: Pioeb, CC-BY-SA 4.0.
Two Leicester City focal points have strolled onto the radar lately; Kelechi Iheanacho, 23, and Jamie Vardy, a decade older. Tie that to the title of this piece and you can almost see where this is going. The Leicester supporters might loathe it, but Vardy’s fine career is just about to plateau. Meanwhile, Iheanacho’s just cranking up.
Time flies for footballers. The career span of most elite-level players ranges between15-20 years. It isn’t absurd to find players basking in the limelight of top-tier football for that period. But Vardy was a late bloomer. He didn’t feature in top-flight until his late twenties. That takes nothing away from his conquests in the lower leagues of English football, but it ensured his undeniable qualities remained carefully tucked away in the hustle-and-bustle away from the limelight.
Despite Vardy’s difficulty breaking into the Premier League, he’s come in and made a real mark. Winning the division with unfancied Leicester and being named Premier League Player of the Year will forever go down in history. And of course, the fact he smashed Ruud van Nistelrooy’s record of most consecutive goals League goals scored in a campaign made the success of 2015-16 even sweeter. He almost repeated the feat this term...
Arsenal predicted rightly – Vardy still had a lot to give, perhaps five more years. It fuelled their hot pursuit of the attacker. The rampaging Fox was however adamant of venturing into unchartered territory while consistency hasn’t deserted the Englishman. He’s managed to score double figures in the Premier League since Leicester’s title-winning season and he's already hit that mark this term. In fact, Vardy has scored 51 times in the league since that famous party at his house in 2016. Not bad for a man now in his early 30s...
Vardy is still among the most revered strikers in English football. The top-scorers chart lays it all bare – the former Fleetwood poacher leads the race for the Golden Boot with 17 goals.
He’s brilliant, still full of pace and hasn’t lost his predatory sense, yet it’d be foolhardy for Leicester to rest their full scoring weight on Vardy. Not even this season; cracks like fatigue and injury are already becoming evident.
Brendan Rodgers isn’t that stupid, he’s been grooming someone to lock things down in Vardy’s absence. The question now is whether Iheanacho is the man to replace Vardy. Is he ready?
Unlike Vardy, Iheanacho found a faster route to the best league in the world. His rise to prominence at the Etihad was nothing short of phenomenal. By 2017 when Leicester spent £25million on the Nigerian, his reputation was never in doubt. However, the goals seemed to dry up for the former Manchester City star. It wasn’t due to a lack of playing time. He appeared 30 times in the Premier League last term and managed a single goal. Trust waned for him from both the manager (Claude Puel) and the fans. Still, the club kept the faith, refusing to cut ties with their expensive striker.
Rodgers had done a fine job nurturing youngsters or reinvigorating their careers. Players like Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling can attest. It seemed he couldn’t do the same for Iheanacho, until recently. The Super Eagle is beginning to find wings. Due to a barren run of both games and goals for the most part of 2019, Iheanacho lost his place in the national team. But with seven goals and four assists from his 12 games this season, it can be argued he’s back in the reckoning with both club and national team gaffer.
Iheanacho’s three league goals for the Foxes this term equals his best tally for the club since he joined them. It’s a long shot from Vardy’s number, but given as many minutes as the club’s #9 you can bet he’d rattle the net a lot more often.
You’re tempted to believe Jamie Vardy can still give Leicester City a couple more stellar seasons. Albeit, the Foxes don’t need to break the bank to bring in a new striker, with some patience, Kelechi Iheanacho can be shaped into a terrifying centre-forward.