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Kelechi Iheanacho: Best supporting striker for Leicester City and Nigeria

A few years ago, a young Nigerian football player couldn’t afford to pay a token to watch the Premier League at a public viewing centre in his hometown. Today, that youngster’s story is much different. Leicester City’s Kelechi Iheanacho has enjoyed a meteoric career surge which will undoubtedly rise higher next season, beginning at the World Cup.
The U17 version is not a very popular FIFA tournament but still provides a platform for the best young footballers to display their wares. Kelechi Iheanacho cclimbed that platform in 2013 and never came down. His time with the Manchester City academy was cut short for all the positive reasons. Manuel Pellegrini installed him into the Manchester City senior squad a few months after training with the Citizens Elite Development Squad. The young man was well-mannered, skilful, strong and exhibited a remarkable scoring ability. Iheanacho’s innate talent spoke volumes.
Over a two-season period, the Premier League was made aware of a startling teenager who possessed the prerequisites to become a dreaded attacker among the elites. No eyebrows were raised when Leicester City coughed up £25 million to wrench him from City’s clutches, albeit not without an all-important buy-back clause added in. Questions were asked, however, when the Foxes continued to bench him.
Jamie Vardy vs Kelechi Iheanacho
It was a mismatch in every sense. The most idolized Leicester striker since Gary Lineker vs a 20-something with very little other than potential. No manager could overlook Vardy, regardless of how much was spent on a new striker. Neither £16 million Ahmed Musa nor £28 million Islam Slimani could challenge the Englishman’s anointed position. Both strikers eventually accepted loans to garner playing time.
With Leicester’s centre-forward position now Vardy’s in every sense, berths in the Foxes attack were limited to the wings or secondary striker. Iheanacho claimed the latter.
Vardy remains important for Leicester; at least for next season, but the 2016 Champions needed a supporting striker who could complement their talisman. Kelechi Iheanacho is that man. Claude Puel need look no further.

Puel’s side lost their mojo towards the end of the season but can take pride in having humbled Arsenal at the King Power and pushing Tottenham Hotspur all the way at Wembley on the season’s final day. In those games, both Vardy and Iheanacho registered on the scoresheet. The 21-year-old was the man of the match against Arsenal and scored a cracker against Spurs. City played a 4-4-2 with Iheanacho supporting Vardy in the attack.
Although the Nigerian forward is known for his ability as an out-and-out forward, it takes nothing away from his ball-playing skills which makes him the perfect fit as a supporting striker or as a number 8.
Injury, loss of form and most importantly lack of game time (due to competing with Vardy until season’s end prevented Iheanacho from being a hit for Leicester. Three League goals in 21 appearances; eight in all competitions after 28 games is a far cry from prolific.
Fortunes will change next season for the striker if Puel or any other manager chooses to build his attack around a partnership between Vardy and Iheanacho with Riyad Mahrez and Marc Albrighton providing supply. Again, that’s assuming the Algerian stays. The prospect is a tantalizing one for the King Power side. Iheanacho is much better than Shinji Okazaki, Demarai Gray, or anyone else in the Leicester system as a supporting striker.
Now, Iheanacho has been named to Nigeria’s provisional shortlist for the World Cup. Barring injury, he’ll make the final squad. To get the best from him, Gernot Rohr must find a way to partner him with Odion Ighalo rather than sweating over one or the other.
If Rohr takes that advice, Kelechi Iheanacho’s prowess as a supporting striker will be brought to the fore in Russia.

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