In a manner of speaking, Kelechi Iheanacho hardly needs a finishing school because he’s very good at finding the back of the net.
He is a dead-eyed striker, who has a knack for hitting the bulls-eye with very little chance and relatively consummate ease. But that and very little else has his three year stint at Manchester City evinced. There is not enough we have seen of Iheanacho to ascertain his full range of abilities. Years when the youngster burst onto the scene in the 2013 U-17 World Cup, the willowy forward mesmerised with his deft left foot, light of touch, bristling with creativity and imagination.
Then the Mancunian call came, his (re)-education began, he (d)evolved into a centre forward as against a Centre Attacking Midfield role earmarked for him by the Nigerian football public— perhaps, needing him to fill the gaping hole in the Super Eagles’ midfield. It took a while to accept Iheanacho as anything but an attacking midfielder as Super Eagles’ coaches failed deplorably at shoehorning him into the role. His movement was naturally different, his interpretation, awkwardly distant from a midfielder’s. Invention had been exchanged for goal poaching, or perhaps more accurately, his creativity used to buy his way into the afterlife, the Manchester City Football Academy.
Becoming a Citizen has had its great gain too, he’s stockier and stronger as the 20-year-old has sharpened his goals-scoring instincts, he has become a lethal threat in front of goal and the word clinical seems to have stuck. His enviable goal record under Manuel Pellegrini and in the early days of Pep Guardiola’s tenure attests to that.
However, the Manchester City forward is caught in an unlikely place his promise from two seasons ago would suggest. The willing, young, talented player who just doesn’t suit his manager’s system, ergo, he is dispensable; not aggressive enough, not creative enough and relatively limited with the ball at his feet.
New Manchester United forward, Romelu Lukaku was in a similar place, willing, young, talented player who just doesn’t suit his manager’s system. He was farmed out to Everton and the Finch farm proved a great finishing school for the £75 million striker. Nemanja Matic had to complete his education at Lisbon before he returned to Cobham to become a key cog in Chelsea’s title-winning season under Jose Mourinho. Alvaro Morata and Paul Pogba both passed through the Old Lady to shake off the tag youngster and evolve into world-acclaimed superstars.
The point is, away from the boyhood club at a less pressured environment, there is more game time, more opportunity and a better chance to iron out the perceived flaws. Maybe, explore the outer margins of one’s talent. Iheanacho is not without a host of suitors, but Leicester City seems the most likely destination for the Nigerian.
The former champions could provide Iheanacho the perfect platform to flourish while hoping to kick on from their disastrous title defence. He’d find himself in the King Power cauldron capable of oozing out the best of his abilities and dispelling self-doubt. Under Craig Shakespeare, the striker could go on to form an impressive partnership with Jamie Vardy, learning to be more expressive and dynamic while chipping in the goals. His good work ethic would rev up to excellent and he’d learn to be more aggressive without the ball as part of the forward press.
There’s a lot of magic consistent playing time can do, and Leicester City could offer Iheanacho a lot more than 15 minutes off the bench. The youngster’s talent should see him with a better fate than compatriot Ahmed Musa at the club. With enough game time, the right amount of dedication and good coaching, we just might be talking about a return to a super club for an outrageous fee. The lad is that gifted.
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