With only 35 days to the FIFA U-20 world cup concerns are rising over the fitness of one of the country’s brightest talents, Kelechi Iheanacho. What has happened to him? Did he fail the MRI test, or has his career stalled (like many other cases); Hell No!
The Manchester City midfielder has failed to properly shake off a knee injury suffered in February in the UEFA Youth league clash with Schalke 04’s youth team, and reports has it that he has only played three competitive games all year due to injury and work permit issues. This more than raises concerns over his chances of participation, as the injury was his third of the season.
Although Manu Garba has carved a niche for himself as a manager who builds a team that thrives even in the absence of the star names; See how the Golden eaglets scored for fun in the absence of Isaac Success (lad who was supposed to spearhead the attack) and how the Flying Eagles dominated Africa without Musa Yahaya or Kelechi Iheanacho. Nonetheless, their return to the team is eagerly anticipated for the sheer quality they possess and their exposure to European football.
Whether Kelechi will make it to camp early isn’t a major concern now, instead its if his undoubted gifts will get him a spot on the final 21-man list despite lacking match sharpness. Real Madrid’s Sami Khedira is the most recent example of such triumphant comeback story. Having barely settled in the side following stiff competition for places, he tore his Anterior Cruciate Ligament and was sidelined for 6 months. He returned in April and made Germany’s final World Cup squad, chalking up 375 minutes over 5 games and had such a scintilating performance as Germany annihilated Brazil in the semi-final. Little wonder why Kelechi cannot share a similar story.
If Nigeria must emerge victorious in New Zealand then the best legs (and minds) must partake in the tournament. One of Kelechi’s strength is his ability to carve out a chance and score the odd goals just when they are needed, now how key can that be? Of the past 5 winners, only Argentina in 2005 won the tournament by scoring less than 15 goals (they got 12) also, in 3 of these 5 editions, the winners have top scored. Although it may be argued that the team may not need loads of goals to win the tournament, true that. Infact, Greece and Spain did demonstrate that in 2004 and 2010 respectively but no U-20 team has managed that before and should that be the case Kelechi’s knack for arriving late in the box, or just being around the box when needed most can be vital.
Article by Tolu Olorunmoteni