From turbo-charged teen to ‘Senior Man’: How Kelechi Iheanacho realised his potential

He was once the Manchester City teenager regarded as the crown jewel of their academy, and Kelechi Iheanacho is now the ‘Senior Man’ for Leicester City.

The new nickname is a Nigerian tribute to Iheanacho’s recent impact, with seven goals in his past four matches, and there is little doubt that the forward is in the best form of his career ahead of the meeting with his former club on Saturday evening.

As Leicester pursue a return to the Champions League, Iheanacho has struck gold at the perfect moment.

The £25 million signing is finally delivering what Leicester expected, and Manchester City’s academy coaches had always predicted, injecting fresh impetus into Brendan Rodgers’s season and easing the pressure on Jamie Vardy’s shoulders.

It is surely inevitable that he will win March’s Premier League player of the month award.

Kelechi Iheanacho and Jamie Vardy

Iheanacho’s fine form has taken the pressure of Jamie Vardy’s shoulders

Credit: PA

Negotiations over a new contract are expected to start this summer, a fitting reward for a player who has arguably suffered only because of Vardy’s brilliance.

With Leicester previously so dependent on Vardy, their undisputed talisman, Iheanacho has proved that he can effectively operate alongside him and allowed Rodgers to be more tactically flexible.

He is a hugely popular figure in Leicester’s dressing room, insisting that every team-mate, physio and coach signed the matchball after his hat-trick against Sheffield United

In a post-match interview after that game, he also dedicated his treble to all mothers in the world. It was a particularly poignant moment, as his own mother, Mercy, passed away in 2013 after a brief illness. His goal celebrations always include a salute to the heavens.

Selfless, humble, and unfailingly polite, Iheanacho also refused to take all the credit for his stunning volley at Burnley, claiming it was only possible due to Vardy’s run taking defenders away.

Operating in the pockets in front of the midfield and behind Vardy, Iheanacho has finally found a role that seems to suit him. 

In the past, he has been employed mainly as a lone striker in Vardy’s absence but the past few weeks have underlined that he is far better suited playing in a front-two.

“He’s full of confidence and when any player does that you can play to a high level,” said Rodgers.

“He’s come here for a big fee with one of the league’s best strikers already at the club so there has been adaptation for him. His work and ambition to be a better player is always there and whatever role he’s been asked to play he’s done it very well.

Kelechi Iheanacho

Iheanacho was highly rated at Manchester City before being sold to Leicester 

Credit: AFP

“I’m a manager who likes to develop players and when you see that improvement it makes you really satisfied.”

Perhaps the biggest surprise is that it has taken Iheanacho so long to spark his Leicester career into life.

Breaking into the first-team from Manchester City’s academy at the age of 18, he was tipped as one of four future superstars alongside Jadon Sancho, Phil Foden and Brahim Diaz, by chairman Khaldoon al-Muburak.

Iheanacho was highly admired by Manuel Pellegrini, with the sales of Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic a result of the club’s confidence in the young Nigerian. In his first season, he scored 14 goals which included a hat-trick at Aston Villa in the FA Cup.

After the game he was ambushed by the entire squad in the Villa Park away dressing room, with the players serenading him with the chant which had been newly created by the club’s supporters.

Though Pep Guardiola had high hopes for him, the offer from Leicester in August 2017 was too good to turn down.

Manchester City insisted on a £50 million buy-back option, which has now expired, due to their trust in his potential.

At times, that fee has undoubtedly weighed on Iheanacho’s shoulders and he has only impressed sporadically under first Craig Shakespeare and then Claude Puel.

There have been numerous occasions when rival Premier League clubs, and teams abroad, have attempted to sign him on loan due to a lack of opportunities.

Yet Rodgers has proven the difference, with his man-management and tactical nous bringing the best out of the 24 year old. 

Iheanacho is now unquestionably a key part of Rodgers’s plans for the final two months of the season, with the FA Cup semi-final against Southampton also looming in April.

‘Senior Man Kelz’ is coming of age, and Leicester are only benefiting.

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