Claude Puel has officially been appointed as the new manager of Leicester City Football Club. Within his playing ranks lies a certain young striker with aspirations to be a key player for Nigeria in next summer’s World Cup.
With his new club still closer to the drop zone than a European spot, Puel’s first task will be to make the most of his attacking resources and get the Foxes out of immediate danger. While he has yet to demonstrate the sort of charisma that Claudio Ranieri showed during Leicester’s legendary 2015/16 season, Puel has the opportunity to at least forge a squad with the same characteristics and playing style as the title winners of 2016. Should he keep his club in the top flight, his next task will be to plan for the future and build a squad that can grow up together.
As one of the Premier League's youngest scorers, Leicester City’s Nigerian striker Kelechi Iheanacho could be a key part of Puel achieving both objectives, if his club career unfolds as planned. If it does, then Iheanacho’s strengths can also have a positive impact on Nigeria’s performances for an entire generation.
Former Leicester manager Craig Shakespeare lasted just eight months in his role as the Foxes’ manager, but in Iheanacho, he may have pulled off one of the bargains of the season. The difficulties associated with signing top players are detailed in no uncertain terms in this blog post, and it is here that the logic behind the move gains credence. Whenever the very best players are unavailable, the goalscoring rate, rather than the all-around quality of the player must be the first consideration. Even as a Manchester City player, often coming on as a substitute, Iheanacho still managed around one goal every three games – as can be seen in the statistics on Transfermarkt.
Overall, though he is far from a ‘complete’ footballer, this is an encouraging ratio for an inexperienced player with limited opportunities at truly elite club. Iheanacho finally opened his account for Leicester City in a 3-1 win over Leeds United in the English Football League Carabao Cup. Where his club is concerned, the ability to win matches by any means necessary may soon become of key importance. Specifically, that could mean playing in a direct style that suits Iheanacho’s pacy nature, even if his hold up play is an area of development. A successful emulation of the same direct style that saw Leicester win the title in 2015/16 will see Iheanacho’s new club avoid relegation comfortably and allow such progress to continue. In turn, his confidence ahead of any international games for Nigeria can only grow.
Despite having limited playing time as an international, Iheanacho also has a good fighting chance of representing his country at next summer’s World Cup. Nigeria progressed from the World Cup group stage back in 2014, and there is an ever-growing belief that a new, fearless element is needed to maintain the momentum created four years ago. In becoming a part of the World Cup squad for 2018, he would once again find himself playing in front of fellow Leicester teammate Wilfred Ndidi. So too would he be a part of an attacking triangle completed by Chelsea’s very own secret weapon, Victor Moses. As a winger with an ability to offer unusually extensive coverage of the right flank, Moses’ role alongside Iheanacho and Ndidi could easily stun some of the more celebrated teams in next summer’s World Cup.
The potential that the Premier League trio wield when playing together on the international stage was last in full evidence during Nigeria’s 4-0 win over Cameroon on 1 September 2017:
While Cameroon did not represent the sternest of opposition, the work rate and fitness demonstrated by that trio of English Premier League players greatly fuelled the emphatic nature of the victory. It is still ‘early days’, as most would say, but with the World Cup draw taking place in December, the anticipation ever rises as a new generation of Nigerian talent prepares to take centre stage.