Kelechi Iheanacho firmly failing Leicester City audition

The Nigeria striker isn’t able to translate regular playing time to a consistent goalscoring output with the Foxes


Throughout his club career to date, Kelechi Iheanacho could make a case that a lack of opportunity has stymied his progress.

At Manchester City, he was asked to feed on scraps, and largely made the most of the time he was afforded.

He only ever made 12 Premier League starts for the club, with the rest of his appearances coming from the bench, but still left the Citizens with an admirable goals-to-minutes ratio after being deemed surplus to requirements by Pep Guardiola.

A switch to Leicester City was viewed as the ideal opportunity to establish himself at an environment where the competition might be a little less demanding, but Iheanacho largely found himself operating in Jamie Vardy’s shadow.

He managed 21 league appearances—of which seven were from the start—but endured a horrendous goal drought in the top flight.

Kelechi Iheanacho Leicester City

Indeed, he only managed to break his Foxes PL duck in March, while the last two of his three league goals last term came in the final two matchdays of the campaign.

it was a disappointing maiden campaign, although perhaps the need to adapt to life at a new club, or the Foxes’ own upheaval—with Claude Puel replacing Craig Shakespeare in October—could have explained away his toil.

The forward could also argue that his relatively rare Prem starts also prevented him from settling and establishing himself in the team.

Kelechi Iheanacho | 2017-18 stats

Certainly, with Vardy set to turn 32 during the 2018-19 campaign, Iheanacho appeared primed to play a bigger role for Leicester this term, while his excellent goalscoring form in pre-season hinted at the promise that lingered.

Vardy’s ongoing problems with a groin injury have further opened the door for the Nigerian to assert himself, and with Leonardo Ulloa and Islam Slimani having departed in the summer, Iheanacho certainly has the opportunity to impress.

Jamie Vardy Leicester City 2018-19

Already this season, he has nine league starts—more than he’s managed in any other previous single campaign at either Man City or Leicester.

In fact, he’s already amassed 794 minutes of playing time—only 33 fewer than he accrued last term—and more than either of his campaigns at the Etihad Stadium.

The opportunity is here, but Iheanacho isn’t taking it.

Certainly, if Puel is looking for the Nigerian to prove that he’s in a position to take the reins from Vardy in the near future, then he won’t be convinced by what he’s seeing.

Things got little better for Iheanacho against Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday, a high-profile home game against a defence that had been exposed by Arsenal in last weekend’s London derby.

Rather than make the impact that he’d surely have been hoping for, however, Iheanacho flopped.

Victor Lindelof Eric Bailly Manchester United Kelechi Iheanacho Leicester City

He was withdrawn early in the second half, replaced by Rachid Ghezzal, with some Foxes fans actually cheering and celebrating his premature exit from proceedings.

The youngster’s key contribution was a wild shot after being played in by an early through ball that evaded the Spurs defence, with his nervy showing clearly betraying his lack of confidence that the moment.

Super Eagles coach Gernot Rohr identified the same concern when discussing Iheanacho’s Leicester struggles during November’s international break.

Iheanacho | 2018-19 stats

"We have all seen how Iheanacho has been playing for the national team. He is a good player and his fighting spirit is exceptional," Rohr told local media in Nigeria, as per BBC Sport.

“Off late, his form has dropped. So also has his self confidence, which is very low, and when you lack self confidence you cannot score goals,"

One only has to return to late September, and Leicester’s 3-1 home victory over Huddersfield Town, to find a demonstration of Iheanacho’s enduring class.

He scored one and set up another in that triumph, but there have been precious few examples of his quality since.

Kelechi Iheanacho, Leicester City vs. Valencia

With Vardy ageing—and increasingly injury-prone—and Shinji Okazaki, the club’s other recognised striker, already 32, Iheanacho is unlikely to have a better opportunity to prove himself worthy of being a leading man for an established Premier League force.

Rohr, at least, is hopeful that Iheanacho can return to form at the King Power Stadium.

"Iheanacho has a chance to regain his confidence with his club and play a big role for us [at the Africa Cup of Nations],” Rohr continued.

"He missed what would have been our first goal in South Africa [in November’s Afcon qualifier against Bafana Bafana], but I believe it is a temporary set-back.”

However, if Iheanacho is to prove himself at Leicester, and realise his potential with Nigeria, then he surely needs to put any confidence issues behind him and return to his goalscoring ways.

Kelechi Iheanacho - Leicester City vs. Fleetwood Town

Perhaps Iheanacho hasn’t passed his audition to replace Vardy, but maybe working in the experienced forward’s shadow for the remainder of this campaign will be key to his revival.

“I have been watching him, and when I was at Manchester City I was really following him, and when he broke the record against [Manchester] United, it was the motivation for me as well,” Iheanacho told journalists [as per the Leicester Mercury] this weekend.

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“So seeing him scoring 11 games straight, it gives every youngster motivation to know anything is possible in football.

“I have been watching him since. I didn’t know I am going to come here so playing alongside him is a joy and I am happy learning from him and keep improving.”

Based on recent evidence, there’s still much improvement required if Iheanacho is to come close to emulating his teammate.