“None but ourselves can free our minds,” sang Jamaican Reggae legend, Bob Marley in his 1980 song, “Redemption”.
It was many years ago since those words were said but in faraway Leicester City, years after the song and the demise of the artiste, the words still ring green.
Kelechi Iheanacho has freed his mind and the results are clear for all to see.
A left-footed boy took the world by storm in 2013. Although Nigeria has a good record of producing talents at the under-17 level in world football, this boy had a mind that seemed far above that age grade.
Kelechi Iheanacho had the world by his feet, all he had to do was go forth and conquer. By the end of the 2013 Under-17 world cup, he had done enough to go home with the Golden Ball. He also finished as second highest goalscorer in that competition.
We have seen many footballers shine at age grade levels before getting lost in the wind of senior football. Not for the lack of talent, but they just couldn’t push themselves enough.
It is also important to keep your growth in mind at that level, even when some offers are too tempting to resist.
When Kelechi made the move to Manchester City, a large section of fans back home raised eyebrows. They feared that the move could stall his growth and it was all about the money.
In his first season with the Manchester City senior side, he had 26 league appearances, starting 11 of those. A return of eight goals and two assists showed that he was settling quite well to life at a top club.
The start of the torrid times
When Kelechi moved to Manchester City, Manuel Pellegrini was the man in charge. However, the veteran manager got the boot in Kelechi’s second season at the club.
When highly-rated Pep Guardiola joined the Citizens, everyone knew it could be make or mar for Kelechi’s progress.
Guardiola is a man with a distinct style. As his first year at the club went by, Kelechi saw lesser opportunities and it was time to move.
The illusion of a fresh start
Fresh starts are supposed to spur us on and help us find what made us great. However, it was not meant to be so for Kelechi.
When he moved to Leicester City, he struggled to hit the heights many knew his talent was worthy of. Despite being at a club with lesser expectations, he never looked like that big fish he was projected to be.
After failing to do anything of note for the Super Eagles in the 2018 World Cup, he was ultimately left out of the 2019 African Cup of Nations.
The only way from beneath is up
When Kelechi missed out on the 2019 Afcon, the jury was out on him. They questioned his work ethic and hunger for success.
Was this the man we celebrated in 2013? Was he only motivated by money at the start?
These questions and more came out rolling from the tongue of Nigerian football fans.
It felt like the kick-in-the-butt he needed, but he still struggled to nail that starting spot.
His underwhelming start to life at the King Power stadium meant that James Maddison was the man preferred alongside star man, Jamie Vardy.
He had to settle for a role as Vardy’s deputy. Despite this, the forward scored ten goals last season, ending the season strongly.
Time to sing the redemption song
When Kelechi scored his first league goal for the 2020/21 season in February, little did we know that it was the start of a bullish run.
He’s finally reminded us of the teenager that won the Golden Ball in 2013. He started playing like he was ‘the man’ in the Leicester City team.
It’s not just his seven goals in four games. It’s about how he scored them and the conviction that had returned to his overall play.
If anyone was doubting him, his hat trick versus Sheffield United and his brace to help Leicester City knockout Manchester United in the FA cup showed that he had ‘arrived’.
‘Senior man Kelz’ earned his callup back into the Super Eagles fold and went on to win the Premier League Player of the Month for March.
His partnership with Jamie Vardy remains unmatched in the league at this time. He has finally found his swagger back and can now sing aloud.
Cue in: Bob Marley’s redemption song