Time for Ihenacho to save himself from himself


Akeem Lasisi

Leicester’s 3-1 loss to Tottenham on Sunday is a collective cross all the team must carry. And the burden cannot exclude their coach who has continued to lose matches in recent times. Indeed, if there is any player to blame first, it should be Jamie Vardy who lost a penalty kick that was very likely to have changed the destiny of the match.

Yet, an alternative look at the match could give a fan or foe of Nigeria’s own Kelechi Ihenacho an opportunity to re-assess his growth or lack of it. The reason is that although he was brought in towards the end of the match, he could still have made much difference given the big promise that his emergence represented some years ago. The fear, if not the reality, is that his performance, whether at the club or Super Eagles’ level, has been stagnant, if not deteriorating at least against the backdrop of the larger expectation.

As earlier noted, he might not be the worst player for Leicester during the Sunday’s game. But he could not prove any special skill that defines a star player. His biggest head ache might be his stature. He lacks the physical build that can intimidate an opponent. Instead, his is the type that can make the enemy easily believe he can overrun him. It is not a virtue to indulge in too much exaggeration, but the rate at which Ihenacho is easily cheated strength-wise indicates that even if he has to play in a female team – say like the Super Falcons – he may still end up being the whipping boy!

But it is not a crime to be tender and talented. There are many players with little brawn who have yet excelled on the pitch. Nwakwo Kanu was, for instance, not the bull-like Daniel Amokachi type. Nor were the likes of Finidi George and Mutiu Adepoju heavily built before they could make enduring impacts. What each of them appeared to have done is among the options that Ihenacho may need to quickly take: sharpening a particular skill that eventually made the difference for them.

While Kanu, for instance, could dribble and send the make the ball become almost invisible to the goalkeeper until the latter heard the whistle signal ‘a goal!’, Finidi was great at crossing right into the vital place while Adepoju did not need to buy votes before getting anointed as the Headmaster, based on how he regularly nodded in the ball. Ihenacho definitely has to convert the weakness of his strength into a survivalist strength.

Since the ranting here goes beyond the Tottenham-Leicester match, the overall message is that it is time for the not-too-young-again man to rediscover himself, with the aid of the coach and fellow players. He is the one to principally save himself from himself. Since energy is obviously a major feature he lacks, he should quickly build on skills that don’t very much need such to excel.

While he was just emerging some eight year ago, a promise associated with him is the ability to spin deceptive shots. We don’t get to see many of this again. Besides, he needs to learn to dribble well to create chances and endanger Goliath defenders who could end up incurring penalty kicks.

He should also learn to use his head and yet be able read passes better and create novel ones. Even if he does not do any of these, or they do not fall in line with the coach’s plan, he surely needs to recreate himself and reinvent the promise of old that made him the suitor that top clubs fought over.

The Imo State-born player, who bagged the Most Promising Talent of the Year for 2013 at the CAF Awards, officially began to play for Manchester City in 2014 after some pre-contract rites. That he started well  is symbolised by the fact that he joined the exclusive list of players to have scored 10 Premier League goals before the age of 20, with the list including Wayne RooneyRyan GiggsNicolas AnelkaMichael Owen and Romelu Lukaku.

After slipping off the team’s radar, Iheanacho was signed by Leicester City on a five-year contract on 3 August 2017, for a reported £25 million fee. Part of his profile as captured by different writers, is that he made his debut for the club in a 4–3 defeat to Arsenal on 11 August 2017, scoring  his first goal for Leicester in an EFL Cup tie against Leeds United on 24 October 2017.

On 16 January 2018, Iheanacho became the first player in English football to be awarded a goal due to

VAR, as the referee deemed that the player had been incorrectly ruled offside for his second goal. It was his second in a 2–0 win over Fleetwood Town in the FA Cup Third Round replay.

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