Why Kelechi Iheanacho must leave Leicester City in January
Background image: Kris1973, CC BY-SA 4.0
"Kelechi is just 17 years old and he’s a very important player for us in the future.
"It depends on the way he takes this profession, but I think he’s a good talent."
Those were words from then Manchester City gaffer, Manuel Pellegrini on Kelechi Iheanacho back in 2014. The teenage sensation was getting ready to step up to City's senior team at that time. Unfortunately, things took a sharp turn the next year...
First, the Chilean manager lost his job at the Etihad Stadium. So despite having eventually promoted the young Nigerian to the club's first team, he was no longer around to help him develop. The new man in charge, Pep Guardiola gave the youngster a chance to show what he had. He was not impressed. That marked the beginning of the downward spiral for Iheanacho.
Later sold to Leicester City, things have gone from bad to worse for the player. But as Pellegrini stated, the ball has been in Iheanacho's court. It does appear the U17 World Cup winner has not given his career the seriousness it deserves. Otherwise, why will such a gifted player fail to impress so many managers? From Guardiola to Craig Shakespeare, Claude Puel to Brendan Rodgers, it has been the same story. None of them has considered the striker good enough to feature regularly in the first team.
Understandably, the national team manager towed the same line for his 2019 African Cup of Nations squad. This leaves Iheanacho with a huge job to do if he is to revive a once-promising career. So far, let's just say the move to Leicester City has not worked out as planned. It's time to try something else; something new in a new environment. Sometimes a change of scenery can be all that's needed to spark things back to life.
Jurgen Klopp left Borussia Dortmund when he felt he was getting nowhere. Lacking motivation, he decided to quit his position. The German tactician resurfaced in England a different man. He has made steady progress since and is currently turning Liverpool into a beast of a team.
Iheanacho's fellow countryman Moses Simon failed to perform at Levante last season. He moved to Nantes this term and has been on fire for the Ligue 1 outfit. Victor Osimhen faced a similar situation two terms ago at Wolfsburg. A change of country to Belgium, and then to France, has seen him become one of the hottest strikers in European football at the moment. Islam Slimani who is now at Monaco presents another example. Iheanacho must follow a similar path.
But where could his salvation lie?
Three clubs in three different countries can provide a fresh start.
Managed by a man who knows Iheanacho well, having worked together at Man City's youth ranks years ago, Patrick Vieira could bring out the best in him. Away from the pressure of the English media and the severe competition in the Premier League, Nice can provide a soft landing spot to start all over again. Moreover, the French league has proved to be a good hunting ground for Nigerian players in recent times. The 2013 U17 World Cup Golden Ball award winner could be the next success story.
The newly-promoted side is struggling to stay afloat in the Serie A. In need of all the help it can get, Iheanacho could offer some. He will be welcomed by a former teammate in Mario Balotelli who will gladly show him the way around (although he dare not learn the bad boy's ways). One clear advantage here will be the availability of on-field minutes. Playing a key role in helping the side stay up could help Iheanacho rediscover his shooting boots.
If the 23-year-old really wants to keep away the media's prying eyes, he may as well head to the Spanish Segunda division. Again, former teammate Shinji Okazaki who moved there in the summer will be on hand to show him around. Fellow countryman Ramon Azeez is now reaping the rewards for helping Granada secure promotion to the Spanish top flight. Doing the same for Huesca to help the side bounce back at the first time of asking will be a huge confidence boost.
In the end, Iheanacho would have been revitalised. And he may have found the right place to really show the world his abilities and talents.