Connect in the back of the net

After over a month of negotiations Leicester City are finally poised to secure the £25 million signing of Nigerian striker Kelechi Iheanacho from Manchester City with the long delay caused by issues over a potential buy-back agreement.

John Percy of the Daily Telegraph confirmed on Tuesday morning that the 20-year-old was due to take his medical at Leicester later in the day with all issues regarding a buy-back clause now ironed out.

Manchester City will indeed have the option to bring him back to the club but he will likely sign a five-year contract with Leicester in what represents their most expensive deal of the summer but in all likelihood will prove a real bargain.

 

A star who deserves a chance

One of the unfortunate legacies of Pep Guardiola’s opening season with Manchester City is that Kelechi Iheanacho is now somewhat seen as damaged goods or a player who isn’t necessarily viewed as highly as he once was but the reality is that he is a star who quite simply hasn’t been given a chance.

As a teenager he burst onto the scene by winning the Best Player award at the 2013 U-17 World Cup, during that tournament Iheanacho scored six goals and was immediately on the radar of all Europe’s top clubs.

Arsenal and Sporting Lisbon were believed to have made much of the early running but it was Manchester City and their quite mesmeric academy structure that eventually persuaded the Imo-born goalscorer to head to the North West of England.

By the 2015/16 season he was a fully fledged member of Manuel Pellegrini’s first-team squad at the Etihad Stadium as he scored 14 senior goals in all competitions. It wasn’t a staggering return but for a player so young it was impressive nevertheless.

 

Parallels with Lukaku

Unfortunately Iheanacho never quite suited the Guardiola system and despite a good start in the 2016/17 season, including the winning goal in a Manchester derby, he only managed seven goals throughout the entire season.

Yet this isn’t representative of either the ability or potential he possesses and at still such a young age he is undoubtedly going to develop by playing more regular football.

You can draw parallels with Romelu Lukaku’s situation when he arrived at Chelsea; he couldn’t quite break into the team at Stamford Bridge yet began to thrive when he was loaned to West Bromwich Albion, a team where he was the absolute focal point in terms of goals.

Iheanacho has done far more impressive work at City than Lukaku did at Chelsea but the situation remains the same as he will go to Leicester and will share the limelight with Jamie Vardy. Craig Shakespeare’s continued use of a two-striker system will suit him and it would be very surprising if he didn’t thrive this season.

 

What makes him so special?

Iheanacho is so adept at finding the net and his physical attributes make him a nightmare for defenders. He is powerful but agile in the same breath, if ever there was a player to compare to a prime Didier Drogba then it is Iheanacho.

What makes him special however is his ability to find space when in search of a goal.

One of the Premier League’s greatest at this is the returning Javier Hernandez who made peeling off defenders and drifting unnoticed into goalscoring space look effortless. Leicester’s new signing has similar skills and this will help him improve his goal tally this year.

The Islam Slimani experiment has failed and it has taken most by surprise given his natural talent, record with Sporting Lisbon and the physical attributes which on paper suggest he would thrive in England’s top flight. At £29 million he represents an expensive mistake and unfortunately for Leicester, as much as they would like to move him on no clubs seem interested in a permanent deal.

Vardy’s contributions dipped last season and it is worth remembering that he too is now 30 years old. The Nigerian’s arrival injects youth into Leicester’s forward line and the pair can almost certainly play together.

Service won’t be an issue with Demarai Gray likely to be given a lot more first-team football should Riyad Mahrez leave the club. From the outside looking in it just seems a perfect fit for the next couple of seasons before Iheanacho will be ready to move to a top club once again.

 

One of the best young forwards around

His performance levels at Manchester City haven’t dropped but rather he has simply become the forgotten man as a result of Gabriel Jesus’ arrival in Manchester.

The Brazilian is a star and took to the Premier League right away and because he is a little more neatly suited to playing within a Guardiola team he quickly took the plaudits and attention that Iheanacho had previously been given.

All of a sudden the Nigerian international wasn’t as popular a choice and in football these things happen, there’s no shame in it. What is interesting however is that in such an inflated market, Leicester are getting one of the best young forwards around for £25 million.

This is an easily affordable fee for Premier League clubs and it represents next to no risk for them. If Iheanacho succeeds on the pitch then his goals will pay back the fee and then eventually he will be sold on again for a handsome profit.

If he fails to rediscover his form he will then be moved on again for a loss that isn’t at all significant on a top flight club’s balance sheets.

 

Fills a Leicester City need

It has been a long, drawn-out process but finally Leicester City are close to getting their first-choice striker into the club.

His arrival will fix an area of need in Shakespeare’s team and if he can dovetail with Vardy in a way that Slimani couldn’t then Leicester will be a much more dynamic and efficient attacking force.

This summer has seen many a transfer leave people open mouthed at the size of either a fee or reported salary for a player and Kelechi Iheanacho’s arrival at the King Power Stadium does exactly the same but rather for how cheap a deal it is.

The Nigerian now has the best possible conditions to fulfil his talent and will definitely hope to return to Manchester City as the complete striker in the future.

 

Written by Chris Winterburn

Follow Chris on Twitter @cmwinterburn

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