Unfair, good decision? – Iheanacho’s omission divides Nigerian fans

Mazino Dickson

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As expected, reactions have started pouring in to the final selection of the 23-man squad for Nigeria’s 2019 AFCON campaign.

While some Nigerians commended coach Gernot Rohr for adding fire power, others expressed shock at the omission of certain players

The Eagles coach added the attacking quartet of Henry Onyekuru, Paul Onuachu, Samuel Kalu and Samuel Chukwueze.

Also included were Victor Oshimien and defender Ola Aina.

But perhaps the biggest talking point is the omission of Leicester City forward Kelechi Iheanacho.

After a difficult club season, coach Rohr had earlier this week said the player stood a chance to board the plane to Egypt.

“Kelechi Iheanacho changed, he’s now much more quiet. He’s working seriously but he’s lacking confidence because he didn’t play so much,” Rohr said.

“I see that he’s not happy but we want to make him happy, but we cannot give the players gifts, there’s competition.”

That hope however was not to be.

Mixed bag

Fans gave various reactions.

“After playing through the qualifiers and leading the country to the AFCON, it is highly unfair to be dropped out of the same squad, talking about Iheanacho,” said Eagles fan Moses Edibo.

“Why and how did Mikel make the team? Rohr is just a tool in the hands of the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF), not necessarily the manager of Super Eagles,” he added.

Muyiwa Oni, a Super Eagles supporter residing in Akure, Ondo state, reacted with a rhetorical question.

“Do you think it’s right to drop iheanacho from the squad considering that he helped the team qualify for this tournament?”

Olawale Quadry, a Lagos-based football analyst, thought otherwise.

He commended the coaching crew for taking a bold decision.

“Rohr has made one of the best selections since he became the Super Eagles gaffer as we head to another AFCON,” he opined.

His sentiments were shared by a Nigerian sports radio presenter Dafe Eseoghene, who tweeted:

What the stats say

Prior to the World Cup in Russia last year, Iheanacho made 21 appearances for Leicester City with 3 goals to show; his appearances on the pitch fetched 3 wins, 10 losses and no draws.

 2017/18 LEAGUE SEASON

APPEARANCES GOALS ASSIST SHOOTING ACCURACY TARGET SHOTS PASSES GOAL AVERAGE
21 3 3 38% 11 246 0.14

 

But in the 2018/2019 season that just ended, Iheanacho’s numbers dropped:

 2018/19 LEAGUE SEASON

APPEARANCES GOALS ASSIST SHOOTING ACCURACY TARGET SHOTS PASSES GOAL AVERAGE
30 1 03 33% 06 276 0.03

 

Reality check

Based on the data analysis of his club form, it could be argued that the Nigerian coach was justified in not selecting Iheanacho for the AFCON tourney in Egypt.

Indeed David Doherty, an London-based football scout, believes his poor form at Leicester City and lack of playing opportunities did Iheanacho no just cause.

“Ironically Kelechi is one of the highest scorers under Gernot Rohr’s reign But his poor club form will not justify inclusion in the AFCON party Football is about here and now,” he said.

Whatever it takes, the 23-year old must strive to rediscover his form that made him the golden boot winner and champion at the 2013 FIFA U-17 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates.

It’s time for reflection.