Iheanacho’s time is up at Leicester; Leeds snub proves it


The Englishman has been one of the Foxes’ only bright lights in the Premier League this season, excelling despite Leicester’s dismal form. Coming into a virtual must win against Leeds United on Thursday night without the suspended Maddison, the task against Brendan Rodgers’ side seemed even more daunting.

They had no reason to worry.

Sure, Leeds were as nice as they could be on the night, scoring on behalf of the hosts to break the deadlock and then flashing directions (in neon) to their escape port for the second. That said, Leicester was strangely serene, if not necessarily enterprising, in his work.

However, Rodgers’ decision to replace Maddison was instructive, as dennis praet was the beneficiary in the absence of the English international. This was notable for two reasons. Firstly, this is the second time this season that Praet has been selected to replace the England international; secondly, Praet, although versatile, is more of a midfielder than a striker.

This term, Maddison has featured mainly on the right of Leicester’s forward three, albeit with a license to enter the box in a free role, slipping balls from behind and appearing in the box to shoot.

The interesting thing about this last point is that this is precisely the role in which Kelechi Iheanacho burst onto the scene as a youngster in 2013.

This myth of Iheanacho as a number 10 who became a poacher at Manchester City has grown. That’s half true: in reality, in that U-17 World Cup in which he won the Ballon d’Or, Iheanacho’s role was quite different.

He functioned as the team’s main creative driver, but his starting position was a bit broader. He started wide on the right, relying on the relentless overlapping of the full-back and captain Musa Mohammed to get in and pass behind opposing defences. Not only did he make the most of his technique and shots, but he also comfortably solved the problem of how to fit a number 10 who was more forward than midfield in a 4-3-3. That is, by the way, the same problem (and solution) that Rodgers has found in terms of using Maddison, who has rediscovered his best form playing the position.

It’s concerning then that, with Maddison gone, the idea of ​​using Iheanacho in that role doesn’t seem to have crossed Rodgers’ mind. The 26-year-old is clearly capable from a technical standpoint, he’s no better or worse than Maddison in terms of defensive application, and whenever he’s allowed a long run, his numbers generally hold up. Beyond not knowing the player’s background, Rodgers’ reluctance is hard to justify. (Although you could say the result against Leeds is the ultimate justification.)

In truth, it says more about the Nigeria international, who has regressed so badly that even his teenage self’s performance levels now seem beyond him. He is a marker of the total denudation of a player who was, just 18 months ago, in the midst of an epic purple stain. Playing up front alongside Jamie Vardy, Iheanacho’s tear was partly responsible for the Foxes’ only silverware since their fairytale Premier League title in 2016.

The ‘Seniorman’ spring and summer seem to be forever, but while Rodgers is somewhat responsible for not leaning on the forward two’s chances for the 2021/22 season, Iheanacho has hardly become indispensable when he has played Recently. There’s a bit of a catch-22 here: without rhythm, excellence is difficult, but only excelling without rhythm can provide the opportunity to build rhythm. Ultimately, it may just come down to leverage. Relative to other squad options, the Nigerian international has little.

There’s plenty of blame on both sides of the aisle, but the larger point regardless is this: Iheanacho has come to a fork in the road. As for his time in Leicester, the writing on the wall should need little deciphering. The scales may have been partly against him, but he has been found wanting. So what comes next?


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