If the 2020/21 English Premier League season kicked off in March 2021, Kelechi Iheanacho will be the nailed-on name for the PFA Player of the season.
In the seven matches since March kicked off for Leicester City against Brighton and Hove Albion at the AMEX Stadium, Iheanacho has scored nine league goals in seven appearances, 14 goals in his last 14 games for greater emphasis; failing to score in just one of those matches-a 2-0 loss to his former side, Manchester City at the King Power on April 3.
Last season, Leicester City collapsed with the English Premier League finish line in sight. They had it in their own hands to claim one of the four UEFA Champions League slots but back-to-back defeats to Tottenham and Man.
City, in which they conceded five without scoring, meant the Foxes had to settle for foraging in the Europa League. But this season, they have found a striker in peak form, ready to drag them over the line and into the Champions League in Iheanacho.
If there is just one word to describe the 24-year-old in his current state, it will be clinical as his nine EPL goals have come from 13 shots on target.
The beauty of Iheanacho’s resurgent story is it was unplanned but providence through injuries to Harvey Barnes and James Maddison meant Brendan Rodgers had to tweak something to get his team over the line and in came Iheanacho, who had scored at a much more regular rate than Jamie Vardy.
After contributing an assist and a stupendously glorious winner against Crystal Palace on Tuesday, Iheanacho told his club’s official TV channel, “It’s a massive three points for us. It’s a great night, and it was a great finish–I enjoyed that one.
“I think at that moment, I controlled it down. It’s just one thing–I wasn’t thinking about anything, just shift and shoot and it could go anywhere.”
Two words from the above interview accurately tell where Iheanacho is right now-enjoyment and so much confidence that he is now more than ever willing to shoot at goal at the slightest opportunity. If the scoring chance against Palace had manifested against Wolves in February; nine times out of 10, he will have looked for a ‘safer’ option by passing the ball and the responsibility. Now, he wants the responsibility, and that comes with confidence, knowing that no matter what happens, he will start the next match.
Whilst his manager has always said Iheanacho possessed the talent; the evidence on match days hasn’t always attested to the fact.
“Kelechi is a talent, we mustn’t forget that,” Rodgers said after the comeback win over Crystal Palace. We have always known that [especially in Nigeria] or he wouldn’t have won both the Golden Ball and Silver Shoe at the 2013 FIFA U-17 World Cup.
Rodgers continued, “He’s shown that mental toughness, he’s gone through spells even before I came here. There were moans and groans when he came onto the pitch. But I don’t think there’s any now when you look at what he’s producing and delivering.
“That’s a huge testament to Kelechi’s mentality. It’s not surprising because he is a really talented player. What’s great is that he’s taken the opportunity. And he’s flourished with it, it was about keeping his belief and his confidence.”
Few people know that Iheanacho’s middle is Promise. The promise has been there all along, what has changed is his confidence to consistently showcase his talent.
Confidence that Barnes will not start the next match in his place or that Vardy will not be preferred means Iheanacho can showcase his entire array of talents-all the attributes he always had to be a king on the pitch.
When Leicester City splashed almost $33 million on him in 2018, they paid for a fledgling prince who has used this time and opportunity to state his credentials to be crowned king at the King Power.
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