Seven goals in four English Premier League (EPL) appearances secured the EPL Player of the Month award for March 2021 for Kelechi Iheanacho.
It’s been a whirlwind couple of months for Leicester City’s Nigerian striker Kelechi Iheanacho. For a long time, the former Manchester City trainee has been in the shadows of Leicester legend Jamie Vardy, but the 24-year-old finally appears to be making his mark at the King Power Stadium. Seven goals in four English Premier League (EPL) appearances secured the EPL Player of the Month award for March 2021. This upturn in fortunes was enough to secure a new long-term contract, keeping him at the East Midlands club until the summer of 2024.
Iheanacho’s long-time team-mate with Nigeria as well as Leicester City, Wilfred Ndidi, believes it’s time for Iheanacho to move on from the negativity and disappointment of recent seasons from a domestic and international perspective. Iheanacho’s lack of game time in a Leicester shirt meant that he was overlooked by Gernot Rohr for the Super Eagles’ 2019 Africa Cup of Nations squad. Rohr was critical of Iheanacho, questioning his commitment to the cause. However, even the 67-year-old has made a significant U-turn and recalled Iheanacho for Nigeria’s closing qualifiers for the 2021 Nations Cup.
Ndidi: People have been too quick to write Iheanacho off
In an interview with BBC Sport Africa, Ndidi insisted that Iheanacho’s talent “was never in doubt”. Ndidi was critical of the culture on social media, which saw Iheanacho “unfairly criticised” in his eyes. Ndidi believes it is “sad” that pundits and fans were “quick to write [Iheanacho] off” when he “needed encouragement” following a barren run in front of goal for the Foxes.
Iheanacho was named man-of-the-match after Leicester’s impressive 3-1 victory over Manchester United in their FA Cup quarter-final tie. The Foxes face Southampton in their semi-final and are the clear pre-game favourites to advance to a Wembley final against either Chelsea or Manchester City. On April 15, three days before City’s crunch semi, Leicester were priced as -111 odds-on favourites against the Saints with US sports betting analyst FOX Bet. Manchester City are similarly short price favourites at -125 to overcome Chelsea and maintain their quest for a quadruple-winning season.
Iheanacho, who won the 2013 U17 World Cup with the Super Eagles and was twice named CAF’s Most Promising Talent of the Year, is getting a “deserving reward” for his “tireless” approach to winning his place back in the Leicester side. That’s the view of Ndidi and City boss Brendan Rodgers has been equally vocal of Iheanacho’s “development” and “improvement” this season. The Northern Irishman described Iheanacho as “someone you want to have” in the ranks due to his ability to contribute in big-game moments. His stunning first-time volley in Leicester’s hard-fought draw at Burnley earned him the March Goal of the Month award.
Leicester, Ndidi and Iheanacho in a dogfight to clinch a 2021/22 Champions League spot
There looks like being plenty more big occasions for Leicester and Iheanacho between now and the end of the 2020/21 campaign. The Foxes are in a dogfight with West Ham, Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham to clinch a top-four berth and a place in next season’s UEFA Champions League. Back-to-back league defeats have enabled the likes of David Moyes’ West Ham and Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea to reel in the Foxes of late having seemed certain to finish in the top four at the turn of the New Year.
Fortunately for Leicester and Iheanacho, the Foxes have a run of four upcoming EPL fixtures against teams in the lower reaches of the table, including relegation-threatened West Bromwich Albion and Newcastle United. If they can get maximum points from all four of these games, it would go a long way to securing that Champions League place. It would also avoid the need for any stressful six-pointers in their final three games of the season against Man Utd, Chelsea and Tottenham respectively.
It’s always been said that Brendan Rodgers would be unable to replicate the achievements of Claudio Ranieri with Leicester City, who upset all the odds to win the EPL in 2016. However, Champions League qualification and a shot at winning the first FA Cup in their history will represent a highly successful season for all concerned. As for Iheanacho, if he can carry on averaging a goal every 109 minutes he’ll remain a firm part of Leicester and Nigeria’s plans going forward.