Kelechi Iheanacho: Wilfred Ndidi backs Nigeria team-mate to be even better after criticism

By Oluwashina OkelejiFootball Writer, Nigeria
Leicester City and Nigeria duo Wilfred Ndidi (left) and Kelechi Iheanacho
Leicester City and Nigeria duo Wilfred Ndidi (left) and Kelechi Iheanacho

Wilfred Ndidi says Leicester City and Nigeria team-mate Kelechi Iheanacho can continue to improve and put two years of criticism firmly behind him.

Iheanacho, 24, was overlooked by Nigeria for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations finals after finding himself on the fringes at Leicester City.

In recent months though his fortunes have started to change as he scored seven times in four appearances for the Foxes to be named March's Premier League player of the month and also signed a new deal to keep him at the club until 2024.

"Kelechi's talent was never in doubt, but as it is in life people love to criticise others when they are down," Ndidi told BBC Sport Africa.

"He was unfairly criticised and judged by different people. This is someone I have known from our youth days at the under-17s and I know his quality, so it's not a fluke that he is producing his best football again.

"I am very happy for him because he's doing wonderfully well now and everyone can see.

"It's just sad that when he needed encouragement in the past few years many were quick to write him off, but thankfully some of these people have now turned around to praise him. That's life."

Rohr's U-turn

Kelechi Iheanacho in action for Nigeria
Kelechi Iheanacho in action for Nigeria

Among those who criticised the player was the Nigeria manager Gernot Rohr who publicly questioned Iheanacho's commitment and professionalism to the national team back in 2019.

But the Franco-German has since made a U-turn, following Iheanacho's man-of-the-match award against Manchester United in Leicester's FA Cup quarter-final win last month.

He was rewarded with a rare start for Nigeria in last month's final two rounds of qualifying for the 2021 Nations Cup against Benin and Lesotho.

"We have all been impressed by Kelechi and this is very positive for our team to have a player doing well in a top league," Rohr revealed.

Just rewards

Kelechi Iheanacho

On Saturday Iheanacho was in Leicester's starting line-up against his former club Manchester City to make it six consecutive starts for the first time in his club career.

Ndidi now hopes to see the 2013 Under-17 World Cup winner and two-time Caf's Most Promising Talent of the Year winner kick on.

"He's a happy guy and Kelechi is only now enjoying a deserving reward for his tireless hard work," Ndidi added.

"When you get a rhythm of games and the support of your coach, teammates and fans it can only get better.

"This latest chapter is going to give him the belief and confidence that he is a really important player for his club and country.

"I know and hope that he will continue to deliver for us. I never doubted him and I know he will bring more goals and performance that will continue to elevate him."

Iheanacho has made 118 appearances, scoring 32 goals and providing 17 assists, since moving to Leicester from Manchester City on a five-year contract in 2017.

At international level, he has scored nine goals in 30 appearances for Nigeria since making his senior debut against Swaziland in November 2015.

He starred as Nigeria won the 2013 Under-17 World Cup for a record fourth-time and emerged as the tournament's outstanding player, being voted the Most Valuable Player.

He also scored six goals to secure the Silver Boot as the competition's second-highest goal-scorer.