His mother, being a teacher, wanted him to stay in school and focus on academics, but Kelechi could not stop working towards his dream of becoming a professional footballer.
After the 2013 U-17 World Cup, in which Kelechi was named player of the tournament, Manchester City paid Nigeria’s Taye Academy £350,000 for his signing. Delays in receiving a work permit meant Kelechi would train with Columbus Crew for 10 months after his signing. Then, Iheanacho began to play for Manchester City’s youth teams, scoring the only goal as Manchester City defeated Porto in the final of the 2014-15 Premier League International Cup.
In the summer of 2015, Kelechi earned a spot on Manchester City’s pre-season roster, and didn’t look back. He was promoted to the senior squad, and would go on to score 14 goals and 5 assists in 35 appearances, despite only starting 11 games.
The following season, he found opportunities limited, and he rightly sought a transfer to the Midlands this summer, becoming Leicester City’s 2nd most expensive signing ever after Islam Slimani. The 21-year-old has struggled to hit the ground running for the Foxes; getting on the pitch has been one thing, with injuries blighting his start to the season, but syncing with his new teammates has been another challenge. He completed a cameo performance against Manchester City today, but he is still yet to complete 90 minutes for Leicester City, coming closest to doing that in the 3-1 EFL Cup win over Leeds United, the game where he also recorded his first goal (and assist).
His inability to displace Shinji Okazaki, who is having his best spell in front of goal for Leicester, has been a major issue for the Nigerian striker, and the managerial instability at the King Power Stadium hasn’t helped either. Still, there’s a sense that Kelechi has been holding back and not imposing himself as much as he could.
Tactically, there’s a lot more he could add to the team. For a player who started off as a playmaker with the Nigerian age grade teams, Iheanacho certainly has the ability to give more in build-up. And though the goals may not be rushing in yet, he can give a helping hand, assisting more established and confident members of the squad like Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy.
Iheanacho has struggled with the national side as well. He’s lost his place in the first XI to the returning Odion Ighalo and hasn’t started as many competitive games as he would have wished. He’s scored three times for the Super Eagles this year, his goals coming in friendlies against Senegal, Togo, and Cameroon when Nigeria were already comfortably leading 3-0.
Nonetheless, his season may be set to undergo a renaissance. Starting against Argentina in a friendly on November 14, Kelechi terrorized Argentina’s defense, scoring their first goal en route to a 4-2 victory. With the appointment of Claude Puel, he may find more opportunities than under Craig Shakespeare, but it’s up to him to make the most out of those opportunities.
There’s light and the end of his proverbial tunnel. Iheanacho’s quality is not in doubt, and his record at Manchester City shows there’s still much potential to be tapped into; a natural playmaker with the finishing of a 9–there’s a reason he wears the #8 for the Foxes. He’ll have to put in more work while hoping that his Leicester City teammates can also raise their level.