Ahead of tomorrow's eagerly anticipated friendly against Andriy Shevchenko's Ukraine, one player that Super Eagles fans will be looking out for is Leicester City's Kelechi Iheanacho who is one of the few players in the squad who hasn't tasted meaningful action for their clubs this season.
It is a well known fact that Iheanacho is now considered a flop at Leicester with Wikipedia recording 4 goals in 51 games for the one-time golden boy of Nigerian football whose fading fortunes saw him excluded entirely from Leicester's matchday squads in recent matches.
However, indications from Leicester’s pre-season matches were enough to convince observers that Kelechi Iheanacho has turned a corner with strong perfomances and eloquent goals to his name.
That said, factors holding him back in Leicester at the moment are the following: team management, form of Jamie Vardy and the recent performances of those ahead of him in the pecking order (Quality of available options).
These are explored one by one below:
1) Team management: Coach Brendan Rodgers is a shrewd operator and a very ambitious coach. He might not say it publicly however the former Liverpool gaffer wants to finish among the top 6 this season in the English Premier League. To do that, he needs to carry ‘established/key players’ along.
In so doing, the likes of Vardy, Maddison, Perez, Gray have to be ‘on side’. Keeping these players on side means keeping Iheanacho on the side-lines.
2) Form of Jamie Vardy: Rodgers has identified Iheanacho as a Centre Forward option. The issue
with this is that the main centre forward of the team – Jamie Vardy – is on fire at the moment!
The retired England international has scored something like 3 goals in 4 games this season with his last performance against Bournemouth attracting a rating of 9.12/10 and also making him the man of the match.
With this kind of form, the chances of ‘Centre Forward Iheanacho’ making the matchday squad anytime soon is as remote Okocha coming out of retirement.
3) Quality of available options: Someone like Ayoze Perez is a sort of like-for-like replacement for Vardy when it comes to pace, power and precision in front of goal scoring 13 goals for Newcastle last season.
Also, the likes of James Maddison, Damarai Gray, James Maddison, Marc Albrighton, Harvey Barnes and even Ayoze Perez are seen as players with dynamic capabilities as forwards/midfielders which boost their value to the team ahead of Iheanacho.
In this sort of climate, the chances of 'Centre Forward Iheanacho' will continue to be hopelessly slim in Leicester.
This is not to say that he is not good – pre-season performances poured cold water on that notion. It is just the case that, in Leicester at this moments, a combination of factors (not helped by his own lukewarm or declining performances in recent seasons) have contrived to shrink his opportunities for first team football even further.
It may not be a bad idea for the 2013 Under 17 world cup hero to seek a loan move to a Championship side in January where he can again start showcasing the skills, qualities and attributes that he still possess which were more than evident in his pre-season performances that saw him churn out quality outings.