African All Stars

Can Isaac Success step out of Iheanacho's shadow next season?

6:30 PM WAT 16/05/2021
Iheanacho Success
Having broken a two-year duck on the final day of the Championship, we may finally get to see the Watford striker fulfil some of his potential

If Kelechi Iheanacho’s predictably droll post-FA Cup final celebrations on Saturday night brought anything to the mind, it is the significance of sliding doors moments, both in life and in football.

The former Manchester City starlet has now claimed his first major honour in club football, to go with his haul as a cadet at the 2013 U-17 World Cup, the tournament that first made the world sit up and take notice.

It could all have been so different, however.

During the African qualifying tournament en route to the UAE eight years ago, the buzz was about someone else entirely.

Leading the line to devastating effect was a certain Isaac Success, swift and powerful upfront.

It was he for whom a million column inches were set to be written, as from the off he served notice of his intent, bagging four goals in the opening day 6-1 destruction of Ghana in Marrakech and finishing the U-17 Africa Cup of Nations with six goals in total.

Conversely, Iheanacho started that opening game on the bench, coming on to score as a substitute deep into stoppage time.

He was also left out of the following game – against eventual winners Ivory Coast – and did not make his first start until the third game, a 7-0 shellacking of Congo in which he netted a hat-trick.

From then on, he never looked back, and as his star burned brighter and brighter, so did Success’ wane.

Come the World Cup in UAE later that year, it was once again Iheanacho in the limelight, starting from the off this time and destroying Mexico in the opening game.

He went on to win the tournament Golden Ball, scoring six goals and registering seven assists. The majority of those assists, however, were for Taiwo Awoniyi, who came into the side after Success sustained the hamstring injury that would rule him out of the rest of the competition in the second game against Mexico.

There is an alternate reality in which Iheanacho might have never become a starter, and as such might have never earned global acclaim and the move to Manchester City that immediately set him on the path to stardom.

Speak to the coaches of that uber-talented under-17 crop, and they insist that in terms of base talent, the Leicester man was behind (at least) Success and fellow attacker Musa Yahaya, both of whom have failed to soar to the same heights as the one the Leicester faithful now call ‘Seniorman’.

So it is that, in the same weekend Iheanacho scored his 18th goal of the season for Champions League-chasing Leicester, Success was scoring on the final day of the Championship season for already promoted Watford to end a 30-month goal drought.

That period has encompassed injuries and controversy by the bucketload, as the trappings of ‘the good life’ set back one of Nigeria’s most impressive talents of the last decade.

That goal, brilliantly taken, does offer some hope that a spark lurks in there still; that there is still something of the old Success left.

His leaner, more streamlined profile affirms that, underpinning all that talent is the application he has often lacked.

“Everybody knows about the quality of Isaac,” manager Xisco Munoz said following that win over Swansea. “I'm very happy with him because I know his effort to arrive today in this situation.”

If the Spanish manager (and the Hornets’ hierarchy, even more importantly) are as impressed as those quotes suggest, then there is a strong possibility that, come next term, Success will be a part of Watford’s return to the Premier League in a starring role.

In there is another of life’s unique serendipities: the granting of second chances.

If the 25-year-old needs any added motivation beyond the atrophying of what was once elite-level potential, it should come both in the degree of faith Watford have shown in him through his struggles and with the knowledge that there are rarely ever third chances.

The Hornets will be keen not to yo-yo, and as such will demand an even higher level of productivity from their entire playing staff, Success included. Perhaps the weight of that expectation might finally force the striker to shed the excess baggage, and with a full preseason we might finally see the real Isaac.