After protracted talks and hold-ups, Kelechi Iheanacho’s £25 million deal to Leicester City was finally announced. The Manchester City academy graduate joins the Foxes after he was deemed surplus to current requirements. Much was expected when the youngster traded Taye Academy in Nigeria for the Etihad to further his career after bursting onto the scene during the 2013 U-17 World Cup but four years after, the 20-year-old is making a move that is perceived a step down, considering the stature of the clubs involved.
The move places Iheanacho in a delicate place, the in-between where youngsters could reach the high heights earmarked and charted by their potential or the dreary middling mediocrity that has been the fate of most wunderkinds. The whole situation could all too easily, though facile, be blamed on a series of wrong choices, ill-advised moves. It could even go worse if his stay at Leicester is deemed unsuccessful as he opted to stay in England, turning down moves to Monaco and Borussia Dortmund.
The forward would get the flak from many quarters for choosing Manchester City ahead of Porto, Arsenal or Sporting Lisbon, regardless of the ginormous City project at the time. Not many would turn down the opportunity to be the face of City’s Academy project and have the Etihad bosses put faith in him. By all indication at the time, the odds were in the favour of the Nigerian having a successful stay and it was bettered after his impressive season under Manuel Pellegrini.
After a year under Pep Guardiola who is famed for his didacticism, City’s Football Academy project has got a face-lift and Iheanacho has found himself away from the walls of the Etihad with the King Power the Nigerian’s new home.
The situation was pretty simple, Iheanacho didn’t fit into Guardiola’s plans, there was no need trying to make a superstar—if he could— out of a player who is limited, it’s time-wasting. Guardiola showed it up in the purchase of Gabriel Jesus who is more rounded and better with the ball at his feet.
Iheanacho didn’t arrive boxed by the words clinical, centre forward and goals, he had other qualities about him, his lock-picking skills were decent, so much so Nigerians anointed him as the panacea to the Super Eagles’ creative problems.
It is grapping at straws, thinking what would have happened had he gone to Arsenal or Porto but looking forward, Iheanacho has got to hunker down at Leicester City, maybe get some re-education to hit great heights.
The substantial financial outlay, his reputation for rippling the net with little chance and Islam Slimani’s disastrous first season should see his first team chances improved compared to his days at Manchester City.
Consequently, the quality surrounding the 20-year old drops off, it’s no longer David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne reading his runs and playing balls through; Danny Drinkwater and Wilfred Ndidi are the officials in charge of those at Leicester. The football is less pretty, less possession, there are hardly intricate interchanges and there is going to be a lot more chasing.
The in-between has its enormous struggles, days when the support cast are way below stellar. The fight to maintain a high level standard at a mid-table club.
Certainly he’d have counted the cost, he’d be au fait with the realities surrounding taking the step down.
It will take significant moxie not to get sucked in and lose motivation to kick on, to move on to the next pedestal.
The step back up isn’t always easy as Wilfried Zaha has found out at Crystal Palace where his quality is often stuffed out. It took Romelu Lukaku some 53 Premier League goals and three seasons to get up back into the big time. However, it is considerably easier for Iheanacho because of the £50 million buy-back clause Manchester City inserted into their deal with Leicester City.
Iheanacho has to find his feet quickly and deliver consistently at the King Power for the Etihad bosses to come back calling. That may be his way back up.