Wednesday, April 28, 2021 7:07 am
By Ena Ofugara
Kelechi Iheanacho was best player at under 17 level. Well, so was Philip Osondu and Chrisantus Macauley who has gone from Hamburg of Germany to unknown Lamia in Greece. Let us also not forget… or maybe we should forget “little Messi” Okoro. So, even with the promise of Kelechi at under 17 level, I was just hoping against hope. Chrisantus was tall and brilliant and faster than Kelechi at same “age”. If Chrisantus failed, how will the relative smaller, slower Kelechi fair, and in Man City behind Jesus and Aguero?
Not all at under 17 have disappointed. Kanu Nwankwo remains a glowing example. Mikel Obi has done well for himself. Osimhen is carrying a blazing torch. But at this time, Kelechi “senior man” Iheanacho is sugar in the heart of us Nigerian fans. He is milk and honey. He is cold Lacasera and Gala on a hungry broke day.
His journey has not been easy. Having set a record at Man City, scoring in almost every game he is brought in to play, Guardiola and his big pockets felt Kelechi was below standard and sent him to Leicester. I was angry. Leicester played counter attacking football. The team is set up for speedstar, Vardy. Vardy is English and turned down a chance to go to a bigger club just to keep playing for Leicester. Vardy was gOD. No one plays two strikers anymore. Why is Kelechi going to grow mucor on the bench?
Grow he did, but not mucor. Okay, maybe a little mold here and there, but somehow, Senior Man managed to stay ready.
Before now, when Ndidi was going to Leicester to replace Kante, I said a prayer for him on this page. Filling Kante’s boots was not going to be easy. I knew Nigeria needed to have another presence in the EPL and Ndidi playing as destroyer was the one who could be a regular as opposed to any talent we had in and around the EPL. And as soon as Ndidi established himself, I was hoping he would anchor Kelechi whose left boot was special, and not let him lose hope in his ability.
Lose what hope? Kelechi had a GIFT that was away from football and a GIFT that helps people thrive in dire situations… HUMOUR. Kelechi is as funny and upbeat as they come. Ndidi obviously loves and admires and finds Kelechi funny. He is Kelechi’s designated videoman. And their pidgin English in dressing room talking about sundry issues like “Bruno Feenandez always scores” (gossiping Man Utd ace midfielder). Kelechi’s humour was to also infect James Vardy who also loves Kelechi, evidenced by Vardy learning Pidgin English and how happy he is when Kelechi scores. Humour and positive outlook attracts and Kelechi has that gift.
And as the Bible says in Proverbs 18:16 “A man’s gift makes room for him”, Kelechi’s gift of accuracy, intelligent game-reading and awareness, unselfish play, readiness, humility, positive and fun approach to life, and hard work has made room for him on the pitch beside Vardy. His coach, Brendan Rogers, had to find room for him even with Vardy back.
And perhaps BACK TO BACK, Iheanacho might be EPL player of the month. He won it last month and has not stopped scoring since then. 14 goals in 14 games is numbers even Messi and Ronaldo would be proud of. No African is playing at this level at this time, plus Super Eagles is flying at this time
So, the campaign for African footballer of the year must begin now. And ai hope my Warri bros, Amaju Pinnick or one of his people are reading this. Time to begin the campaign for our brother Kelechi to win this year’s African Footballer of the year is NOW. Time to add to Yekini, Kanu, Ikpeba and Amunike as Nigerian-born winners. Okocha and Mikel were stopped by the colossuses of Samuel Etoo and Yaya Toure. None of Mane and Ziyech and Salah are doing anything special this year. Kelechi can do it.
And as Kelechi continues to kneel and credit his God for every goal scored, May God continue to bless and elevate SENIOR MAN, Kelechi Iheanacho. Nigeria needs all the positive distractions from our problems at this time.
-Ena Ofugara, lawyer, writer, health worker and public affairs analyst, writes from Houston, Texas.