Wednesday 12 June 2019

/ by Colin Udoh

Kelechi Iheanacho has been shut out of the Super Eagles

Such has been the consistency of Gernot Rohr’s squad and team selection that there was next to no surprise when his final 23-man squad list for the African Cup of Nations was released.

And while Semi Ajayi’s cut may have stirred a flutter of emotion from fans, the axing of Kelechi Iheanacho, expected as it was, cut to the quick.

It has been less than four years ago since the forward made a blistering start to his senior international career. Since then, his club fortunes have taken a nosedive. Offloaded by Manchester City, Iheanacho’s career at Leicester City has stalled to the point of stagnation.

For the first time ever, he was left out of the Nigeria squad for games last March, and suffered a public chiding by the Nigeria manager.

Even when he was called up to the current squad it was little more than a token recognition, and after he failed to feature in the friendly against Zimbabwe, it was clear that the deed was done.

From the high of being one of the most talented players of his generation, perhaps a future leader around which the team could be built, Iheanacho finds himself cut from the Nations Cup squad, and replaced by Paul Onuachu and Victor Osimhen.

It is a rude awakening for the forward, if he will take the lessons. Rohr agreed that he spoke to the striker, but declined to say what was discussed
“I speak to the players but our conversations are confidential,” he told me.
It is clear however, that whatever the conversation was, it would have involved pulling up his socks and knuckling down for next season. Moving clubs, if necessary and possible.

For a player of his talent and potential to fall so low in such a short time is as shocking as it is unacceptable.
Kelechi’s failure is not his alone. It is also Nigeria’s failure. To put it in perspective, Christian Pulisic is the poster boy for the future of the US national team. After a successful spell at Borussia Dortmund, he will now join Chelsea where his growth trajectory is projected to continue to stay on the upward curve.
While it can be a dangerous pastime trying to predict the future (Freddy Adu, anyone?), Pulisic’s foundational grounding and management means he is more likely to hit his expected heights than Iheanacho or most other African talent.

Looking at the bigger picture, the same basic foundational issues that afflict the likes of Iheanacho (a leaden first touch, amongst other things) was also on exhibition when the Flying Eagles stank up the joint at the FIFA Under 20 World Cup in Poland, and when the Super Falcons let in three goals against Norway at the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

These are all symptoms of a much bigger malaise, one that needs immediate surgery and reconstruction. 

At the moment, there is too much of a dependence on the hit or miss approach. It is time to start taking a more structured approach to both identifying, developing and grooming talent for the long haul.
It is the only way we can avoid seeing a major talent gradually slink into oblivion, or two (and more) national teams display disgraceful performances at the international stage.
Otherwise, the only way is down.

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  1. It's rather unfortunate that kelechi Iheanacho's career is going downhill and the cause seems like a lack of confidence rather than skill.
    What is happening to the various NIGERIAN teams reminds me of Manchester United.
    Managers have tried to sign big name players to get the club back to its storied heights but they mostly have only papered over the cracks in the wall, history bears out the results.
    Without the proper foundations of building a thriving youth program, NIGERIA will keep depending on one star in that club and one other star in the other club, bring them together and try to win a trophy.
    That way we keep papering over cracks until the house falls down on us.
    I'm happy Ole is looking to youth, in two or three years with a bit of luck Manchester United will be as we used to remember it.

  2. You just may be right, you know. Although to be fair, the bulk of Nigeria’s current team have all seen action at one junior level or another


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