FA Cup success over Chelsea will complete Iheanacho’s road to redemption

FA Cup success over Chelsea will complete Iheanacho’s road to redemption

On December 1st 2019, Leicester were a goal down against Everton in a Premier League game at the King Power Stadium, and need a moment of inspiration from someone.

And just two minutes after the hour mark, Kelechi Iheanacho entered into the fray and provided the moment of inspiration the Foxes needed.

The Nigerian international came on for Ayoze Perez in the 62nd to set up Jamie Vardy’s equaliser before going on to score a 96th stoppage-time winner.

That moment turned out to be the start of Iheanacho’s redemption at Leicester. Before then, the Super Eagles star’s career was at an all-time low.

Iheanacho had not played in the Premier League last season until his substitute appearance against Everton, while he also found himself out of the national team setup.

The youngster joined the Foxes from Manchester City with so much promise, but three years after joining, Iheanacho had failed to live up to expectations and was starring at an exit until that moment.

His performance against Everton turned out to be the turning point in his career. Following the clash against Everton, Iheanacho went on to make 19 more appearances in the league last season, scoring four more goals.

In total, Iheanacho scored ten goals in 26 games for the Foxes last season. But despite that, there were rumours that he could still be sold and some lingering doubts on whether he could kick on this season.

The 24-year-old ended up staying at the King Power Stadium, but the doubts remained after a slow start to the season.

Although he played regularly in the first half of the campaign this season, Iheanacho never really made an impact in the league.

However, he did score three times and registered in the Europa League group stages, which showed a glimpse of what to expect later in the season.

After a below-par performance in the first half of the season, Iheanacho turned into a goalscoring machine this year.

What made it more remarkable is that his first goal in the league did not come until February 3 against Fulham at Craven Cottage.

He backed that goal up with another strike against Brighton in the FA Cup a week letter. Following his goal against the Seagulls, he had a mini-drought before going on an incredible run of form from March.

The 24-year-old scored in the 1-1 draw against Burnley before another goal in the 2-1 win against Brighton in the Premier League.

He then scored a hat-trick in the 5-0 win over Sheffield United- his first in the league and the fifth Nigerian to do so in the English top-flight.

It did not stop there as he scored twice against Manchester United to help Leicester City to a 3-1 win in the FA Cup quarterfinals.

He was duly named March’s Premier League player of the month, making him the fourth Nigerian to win the award.

However, Iheanacho did not rest on his laurels and continued his brilliant run of form in front of goal in April, scoring twice against West Ham, once against West Brom and Crystal Palace, respectively.

The Super Eagles star then saved the best for the last as his strike against Southampton sent Leicester City to their first FA Cup final since 1969.

It’s been a remarkable turnaround for the Nigerian star whose career almost two years ago was at crossroads and was surplus to requirements at Leicester.

During this period, critics wrote him off and rightly hammered him for not doing enough. But Iheanacho revealed he never lost faith and continued to work hard.

“I think a lot of people wrote me off, but I never lost faith in myself,” Iheanacho told BBC Sport Africa.

“I was going through a crazy and difficult time when things just didn’t work out for me.

“But I’ve worked extremely hard, and also have the manager and other staff at Leicester, and most importantly my brother and friend Wilfred [Ndidi] who stood by me.

“It’s been a really tough ride, but I’m just delighted it’s all come together for me.”

He’s now reaping the reward-although Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers also deserves huge praises for sticking with him.

Iheanacho has already started May on a good note, scoring in the home loss to Newcastle. But he still has a huge role to play for Leicester this season as they are currently in a top-four battle and play Chelsea in the FA Cup final this weekend.

His profile has gone through the roof in this period of success and even has a special nickname he calls himself (Seniorman Kelz).

It’s been a difficult journey for the young Nigerian, but he’s finally come alive, and he could crown his redemption with a FA Cup final victory over the Blues.

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