When Do We Start to Worry About Iheanacho?
May 1st, 2016. Manchester City suffered quite a spanking at Southampton. A Sadio Mane hat-trick meant that on May Day three years ago, City’s Champions League hopes were calling for help. It was a game that summed up City’s final campaign under Manuel Pellegrini, lacklustre away from home, incredibly shoddy in defence, and an impressive display up front from their young bright spark, Kelechi Iheanacho.
Despite the chastening defeat, Iheanacho bagged two goals that reflected some of his admirable traits, instinctive reactions in the 18-yard area, as well as technical brilliance to place a shot into the top corner. While two months and a bit earlier, a young Marcus Rashford burst onto the scene at Manchester United with a debut double in the Europa League against Midtjyland, across the city, Iheanacho had announced his arrival with a late winner at Crystal Palace back in September. That was the first of 14 goals that season for the Nigerian forward, only behind Sergio Aguero and Kevin de Bruyne in City’s goal-scoring charts that term, which was by no means a mean feat, especially given that one of those two above him is an accomplished finisher in his 10th season in Europe, and the other cost 55million pounds that season.
Iheanacho would pop up with a crucial goal two weeks after that Southampton double, City’s only strike in a draw at Swansea that secured Champions League football the next season for his side. He had laid a benchmark for the next season, a season where Pep Guardiola would be coming in to take charge at City. A renowned winner of a manager with a reputation for bringing forth young players, and a young player starting to do more than show potential; this looked like a relationship that would reap incredible dividends. Ahead of the new season, eyes were on Iheanacho, FourFourTwo did as much with his middle name (it’s Promise, by the way) as they could as the new campaign was near.
And early on, things looked to be going smoothly, Iheanacho wasn’t the first choice up front, and wasn’t really going to be, but by the end of September, he had been involved in six goals, scoring three (including in the Manchester derby), and creating three, despite only starting in two of those games. With Aguero having been suspended for most of that month, Iheanacho stepped up, and not only was the Argentine not missed, but was probably starting to think about his olace in the side in the long-term. Those stats for Iheanacho were richly impressive numbers, and it looked like things would only get better.
Well, they didn’t. Since that ninth month of 2016, Iheanacho has managed 13 goals. That’s 13 club goals in 38 months, an average of just over one goal every three months. He only found the net four more times for City, and the arrival and performance of Gabriel Jesus meant that by the summer of 2017, Iheanacho was on the move, joining Leicester. A move to the former league champions seemed sensible, more playing time was likely, and he would get going again.
He hasn’t. Last season’s tally of eight goals was in no way good enough for a man who cost 25million (however inflated the transfer has become), yet those numbers seem top-class compared to this season’s tally of one. Iheanacho has gone from promising, surely-will-bloom youngster, to something of a liability. His last two appearances for the Foxes, at Liverpool and at home to Manchester United, weren’t up to 20 minutes combined, and his most notable contribution in those games was to stop a Leicester attack with a header in the United defeat, a game they lost thanks to a goal by Marcus Rashford, a player who’s gone so far beyond Iheanacho since 2016, that those comparisons then now seem utterly ridiculous.
It’s not just the lack of goals that’s the problem. If this was just a goal drought, that would still be no good thing; but this is a case of man looking lost on the pitch, seemingly unable to contribute in any form. Before his goal-scoring debut season at Man City, Iheanacho reached some prominence in the Under-17 World Cup back in 2013, where he functioned as a No. 10, a role he owned so much that he got the Golden Ball award at the end of the tournament. He was deployed in that role for some time at Leicester last season, but he only performed in fits and starts, very small fits and starts, and the presence of a more consistent and more productive James Maddison, and a returning Harvey Barnes means his opportunities will be even more limited. And this situation isn’t just at the club level. Iheanacho has looked very much off it on international duty with the Super Eagles as well, not least at the World Cup in Russia last year, where Nigeria seemed to do better whenever he wasn’t on the pitch.
When Iheanacho started to find opportunities hard to come by with Man City, a move away was very ideal, particularly as there were teams lining up for him, this looked like a kid that hadn’t been given enough chances to make his mark. Now, it’ll be quite the shock if any side, at least any prominent, developing or ambitious side, would plump for him should Leicester decided they’ve had enough, and his performances, or non-performances, of late will have Leicester wondering if they have had enough.
As absurd as it would sound, the kid of promise looks to be in decline already. That flame of world-class potential looks to have quenched, and we have to be worried. 1007 days on from May Day 2016, Iheanacho needs his own helpline, and we have to call it sooner rather than later. Promise looks broken.