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Should Kelechi Iheanacho leave Leicester City for more playing time?

Thursday 18th January 2018

When Kelechi Iheanacho starred for Nigeria's U17 national team he helped win the 2013 World Cup. Several European clubs took notice. Arsenal, Manchester City, and Porto were all credited with interest in signing the young attacking mid. City finally secured the youngster’s signature when he was still under 18.

After some stellar performances in the 2015/16 pre-season he was promoted to the senior squad. The young Nigerian had few opportunities, making mostly substitute appearances. Regardless he ended the season with eight Premier League goals and the best goals-per-minute ratio of any player: 1/94. If you count added time he was good for a goal per game. Iheanacho ended the season as City’s third-highest scorer with 14 goals in 35 appearances in all competitions, and nominated for the FIFA Golden Boy award.

It should have been smooth sailing from there. Instead his career hit the rocks. It all began with City appointing Pep Guardiola. Speculation followed. Would the Catalan trust Iheanacho enough to make him part of his new project. Or would he cast him aside for more suitable options?

At first Pep appeared to keep faith with the inherited youngster. Given his performance the previous season it only seemed fair to give the Iheanacho a chance either to lead the lines or prove a reliable deputy for Sergio Aguero. Guardiola kept him in the squad but was soon leaving him on the bench regularly. Even in matches where Aguero could not play. The handwriting was on the wall.

In a bit role, the former U17 World Cup winner managed 5 goals and two assists. Then Gabriel Jesus joined City from Palmeiras in January 2017. The young Brazilian was often chosen before Aguero. It was obvious who the manager preferred. For Iheanacho it was time to go.

The 21-year-old decamped for Leicester in a £25 million move. Leaving City for the 2015 Premier League champions seemed an ideal situation. The Foxes clubhouses wasn't wall-to-wall superstars. Given his quality, it was felt he could command a place in the starting XI.

Again, the plan didn't come together. Five months into his Leicester career, Iheanacho has made only two Premier League starts and seven substitute appearances, with another four caps in cup action. He has scored four goals. This is simply not good enough for a player with such immense talent and promise.

His recent brace against Fleetwood Town secured progress to the FA Cup fourth round. The performance demonstrated his ability. That he had one second goal disallowed by VAR and the next awarded spoke to his perseverance.

Iheanacho needs a club where he can play regular football to finally realise his potential. There is simply too much tenured competition for the same position at the King Power. The team’s attacking options include Jamie Vardy, Islam Slimani, Shinji Okazaki, Ahmed Musa, and Leonardo Ulloa. That's a half-dozen players competing for two places. That is definitely not an ideal situation for a player who needs to play in the starting XI week in, week out, especially with the World Cup approaching.

Iheanacho and Musa are both important members of the Nigerian squad. Coach Gernot Rohr  has already warned them he will only consider in-form players for his World Cup Squad.

My plan is to execute the World Cup with the players who are playing regularly with their respective club

I’m sad the likes of Kelechi Iheanacho and Ahmed Musa lack playing time at Leicester City. I and my scouts took time to pay their coach a visit, but we realize their case is getting worse.

 

Arsenal is faced with Alexis Sanchez's exit. City looks to be losing out on the Chilean while Gabriel Jesus is shelved and Aguero overused. Burnley needs goals. Everton is slipping after an initial surge under Sam Allardyce. Every club in the table's bottom quarter is crying out for a finisher. This may be the ideal time for Iheanacho to heed Rohr’s advice.

Emmanuel Odey

Emmanuel is a freelance football journalist who lives and breathes the round leather game. He is a contributor on several platforms. You can follow him on Twitter for more.


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