Nigerians are never satisfied with any list released by a Coach especially when it concerns their darling team, the Super Eagles because everyone believes that they are football experts even without a professional certification.
On Saturday, Eagles German Coach Gernot Rohr released the 23 Nigeria internationals that will represent the nation at the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Egypt this summer and the biggest name that did not make the list was Leicester City striker, Kelechi Iheanacho alongside Semilogo Ajayi of Rotherdam.
While many Nigerians are happy with the decision to leave Iheanacho out of the AFCON squad, it is important to ponder if it was the right decision to drop the talented star.
Rohr decided to go to Egypt with four strikers Paul Onuachu, Henry Onyekuru, Odion Ighalo and Victor Osimhen who had been in incredible form for their respective clubs. However, none of these strikers play in a league as competitive as the English Premier League where Iheanacho has struggled to make a huge impact.
One of the many reasons why there was an outcry for Iheanacho be dropped was because of his inability to break into Leicester City first team. But Foxes manager Brendan Rodgers explained that the Nigerian striker was doing everything right but was being kept out of the side by Jamie Vardy.
“Yes he is [part of my plans ahead of next season]” Rodgers told Leicester Mercury. “He’s just had his first season adapting to a new club. Then when you’re playing or challenging one of the best strikers in the league, it’s difficult. Kel will come back into pre-season, have a really good pre-season, gain more confidence, work hard and hopefully come out of that with a renewed motivation to show his qualities.”
Is it fair to judge Kelechi Iheanacho as worse than the other strikers that made the AFCON squad when they play in leagues that are not as intense as the Premier League? Onyekuru is originally signed by Everton but played on loan for Turkish side Galatasaray, Osimhen plays in Belgium, Ighalo plays in China, while Paul Onuachu plays in the Danish league.
Amongst these strikers, only Ighalo (26) has played for the Super Eagles of Nigeria more times than Iheanacho (23). Osimhen, Onuachu, and Onyekuru have 11 appearances for the Super Eagles between them. Rohr has left one of the most important positions in the squad to a bunch of young talented players who have little experience in major competitions for the country.
While Odion Ighalo is an experienced striker for the Super Eagles and emerged topscorer during the qualification for AFCON, he has let Nigerians down in major competitions. Nigerians will never forget Ighalo’s miss against Argentina at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia that contributed to the Eagles elimination from the group stage. He is yet to score for the Super Eagles in a major competition but Nigerian hopes rest on his shoulders.
Kelechi Iheanacho will have to keep his head down and work harder at his club side so that he would be able to make future competitions with the Super Eagles. Gernot Rohr admits that he has improved his work ethic but he lack confidence which is not a situation you want a striker in at a major competition.
📸: Kelechi Iheanacho (@67Kelechi), Nigerian International & Leicester City striker in 2010 at 13 years old receiving the top scorer award at the Nigerian Football Federation U-13 tournament, 3 years before he announced himself to the World at the U-17 World Cup in UAE. pic.twitter.com/Z34leZEUAu
— 🌍🔍 (@historyintwits) June 3, 2019
“Kelechi Iheanacho changed; he’s now much quieter. He’s working seriously but he’s lacking confidence because he didn’t play so much,” Rohr told the media. “I see that he’s not happy but we want to make him happy, but we cannot give the players gifts, there’s competition. We have a lot of wingers, we also have good center forwards now, we have three.”
Iheanacho does not have to look too far for encouragement as Ola Aina was in this situation last year before the World Cup in Russia. Ola made the provisional squad for the tournament but did not make the final cut. He got back to his club (Chelsea) and went on loan to Torino where he had a lot of first team opportunities and has now made the 2019 AFCON squad.
Ola Aina told SCORENigeria he believes both Kelechi Iheanacho and Semi Ajayi will get over the disappointment of missing the cut to AFCON and bounce back. Aina will now be making his AFCON debut in Egypt along with 19 other debutants from the Eagles final squad.
“It was unfortunate because they deserve to be on the squad as much as anyone else, but I am sure we will see them soon,” he said. “I spoke to both Semi (Ajayi) and Kele (Iheanacho), told them to keep their heads up, have a nice break and recharge for next season because there is so much more to come.”
While Aina will be joining the rest of the Super Eagles in Egypt at AFCON, Iheanacho and Ajayi will be watching with the rest of the Nigerian population as supporters. Gernot Rohr will be hoping that he has made the right decision with his team selection and the strikers in the squad have enough firepower in them to deliver goals.
Would Iheanacho have made Super Eagles attack stronger at AFCON 2019 or was Rohr right to drop him for Osimhen?