Kelechi Iheanacho: 3 reasons only Turkish clubs seem to want Super Eagles star

Kelechi Iheanacho has been linked with a move from Leicester City to the Turkish Super Lig — and not for the first time.

The earliest rumours one might dig up on the Internet goes all the way back to the Nigerian’s early twenties, but they've been coming in thick and fast in recent years, and the latest links may well be what ends his seven-year stay at the King Power Stadium and eventually land him a destination in Turkey.

It's not been an easy last few years for Iheanacho at Leicester, to be fair. And while, every now and again, he does something to remind everyone of the talent he still harbours in his silky left boot, Turkey is often considered a berth for the winding down of a career. With that in mind, there are a few ways to understand the sustained interest from the Bosphorus.

Kelechi Iheanacho's place in the Foxes' pecking order

The 2022/23 season saw the Foxes relegated from the Premier League. However, even in the Championship, he has struggled for playing time, trailing fellow African Patson Daka and long-standing regular Jamie Vardy for minutes played; by the metric of direct goal involvements, Iheanacho is also behind both.

A contribution of five goals and an assist to Leicester’s push for promotion just isn't good enough — certainly not the sort of numbers that would make Leicester give any serious thought to retaining him beyond this summer, when his contract expires.

Leicester's need to shed weight and Kelechi Iheanacho is an attractive free agent

Leicester, in any case, are in no situation to spend any more than they already have on a high-earning, low-performing player.

The one-time English champions would be minded to trim their roster of excesses, having already strayed into the clutches of the Premier League's Profitability and Sustainability Rules (PSR) whose newly-fitted set of dentures has been biting a great deal into the fortunes of erring clubs this term, inflicting potentially costly point deductions on relegation candidates Everton, Nottingham Forest and Sheffield United.

Those blows may well see one or more of those teams go down at the end of the season, but should Leicester succeed in making it across the other way on the first attempt — as seems more likely than not — they, too, will be hit by an execution resulting from similar PSR breaches (only stayed now on a technicality).

It was confirmed earlier this month that the club's expenses over the last three campaigns, ending in the season of their relegation, exceeded — more than doubled, actually — the Premier League's permitted £105 million-cap. The harm has already been done, and, as already mentioned, Leicester will eventually suffer the consequences.

Kelechi Iheanacho: 3 reasons why only Turkish clubs want Super Eagles star
Photo by Icon Sport

To rein in their spending and avoid further trouble in the future, however, Leicester will have to shed some deadwood, and Iheanacho — perhaps more than anyone else — falls bang into that bracket of dispensables. He's not a liability to Enzo Maresca's team, no, but he isn't much of an asset either at this point.

In any case, if Leicester's ambitions of a return to the Premier League are fulfilled this season, Maresca and the club's Thai owners would no doubt see the need to re-mould the squad in places to make it fit for purpose in the Premier League; an increasingly peripheral figure like Iheanacho would quite likely not make the cut.

Letting Iheanacho go on a free won't bring in any income, true, but his status as one of Leicester's best-paid players — with an annual wage reportedly just north of £4m, only Englishmen Vardy and Harry Winks are better remunerated — would ensure a prospective departure saves the East Midlanders substantial cash that could be invested more profitably, if not factored into any required cost-cutting measures.

Question marks over Kelechi Iheanacho's professionalism

At 27, Iheanacho — who first arrived in England back in 2014, joining Manchester City as one of football's great big hopes at the time — should have been operating at the peak of his powers, but, instead, it feels like the former youth prodigy has lost his way quite a bit and is on the wane, albeit more psychologically than physically.

Kelechi Iheanacho: 3 reasons why only Turkish clubs want Super Eagles star
Iheanacho Kelechi Promise of Nigeria during the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations Nigeria training session in Abidjan, Cote dIvoire on 21 January 2024 – Photo by Icon Sport

Case in point was at the 2024 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) this year, where Iheanacho — once an untouchable in the Nigerian national team — only played a limited role, after falling out of favour with then head coach Jose Peseiro over his conduct away from the pitch.

Incidents like that (and others, such as former Super Eagles head coach Gernot Rohr's famous reason for dropping him from the international fold back in 2019) suggest that Iheanacho, whether he admits it or not, is missing the point of what the demands are of playing at the highest level — which is why, more at this stage in his career than at any other, moving to a place like Turkey makes plenty of sense.

It isn't the worst footballing country in the world, no, but hardly any top players harbour a desire to move there in their prime.

Far too often, it's just the sort of place declining stars settle for, and there are several Nigerian examples of that — think the likes of Joseph Yobo, Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Julius Aghahowa, Mikel Obi, Ahmed Musa and Victor Moses.

Iheanacho, it appears, is also entering that twilight stage where there isn't much else to play for, which certainly explain why the clubs he's being linked to are almost exclusively of the Turkish variety.

Should he eventually accept an offer from any of those suitors, it definitely would confirm a demise that, frankly, has been on the horizon for quite some time now.

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Godfred Budu

Godfred Budu, a Ghanaian sports journalist, brings a dynamic perspective to the field with over a decade of experience. Having contributed to esteemed platforms such as Kickgh.com and Inkandkicks.com. Godfred is recognised for his insightful commentary and in-depth analysis of African football.
His passion for storytelling and commitment to accuracy have established him as a trusted authority in sports journalism in Ghana, captivating audiences with his engaging narratives and unparalleled expertise.
Godfred holds a degree in Integrated Development Studies (Social and Development Administration option) from the University for Development Studies, Ghana.