After arriving Leicester City from Manchester City for a celebrated fee of £25million and a weekly pay of about £115,000, Kelechi Iheanacho is generally regarded by The Foxes faithful as a big flop after scoring just once. He was behind Jamie Vardy and Shinji Okazaki in the pecking order, culminating in the club’s eggheads contemplating offloading him, even at a loss. However,on Tuesday, the Nigerian found his footing and etched his name in English football
W hen the club was beginning to accept they made an expensive mistake by snapping up the Nigerian ace and contemplated shipping him off to recoup part of their money, he struck a first and bounced back into relevance.
Prior to that situation, selling him was a problem which a well-placed source explained thus: “The problem is Kelechi is earning around £115,000-a-week on a five-year deal and no club will currently want to take him on those wages. So Leicester might have to let him go for a lot cheaper than they paid for him if they decide to sell now.”
The 21-year-old forward scored seven goals in nine starts for Manchester City last season and Pep Guardiola was reluctant to see the Nigerian leave last summer. But things have gone badly for Iheanacho, who has made just two Premier League starts, scoring just once in the EFL Cup. Speaking after the first leg 0-0 draw with Fleetwood – a game which Leicester failed to have a shot on target, Leicester Manager Claude Puel said: “I think Kelechi is a young player and he needs to improve aspects of his play.
“Also it is difficult because he is a player behind Jamie Vardy and it means he doesn’t get many opportunities.” Shinji Okazaki is also playing well, so it is difficult for him. “He works hard on the pitch and in the training sessions and he needs to continue. “I hope he can have some game time in the future.” Newcastle, Stoke, West Ham and Swansea were all chasing Iheanacho in the summer, but are unlikely to want to pay his wages. Manchester City also have a buyback clause in the deal, which allows them to get first refusal on the player for a fee of £50million.
Iheanacho however made Video Assistant Referee -VAR history as Leicester City beat Fleetwood Town 2-0 to reach the fourth round of the FA Cup.
Former Manchester City striker Iheanacho opened the scoring with an assured finish three minutes before half-time against Leicester’s League One opponents and thought he had been denied by the offside flag inside the final quarter of an hour.
However, the video assistant referee system showed the 21-year-old was onside when played in by Riyad Mahrez, the goal stood and a trip to Peterborough United in the next round was secured.
The Football Association is putting the technology on trial during this season’s competition and Iheanacho stands as its first ever goalscoring beneficiary in English football.
When Iheanacho ran onto a Mahrez pass to slot home in the 77th minute of the third round replay, his strike was initially ruled out for offside.
But after a short delay while the attack was being analysed by the VAR assistant Mike Jones, the decision was changed – replays showed Iheanacho was just onside and referee Jon Moss awarded a goal.
The VAR system was first used in England earlier this month for Brighton’s FA Cup third round tie against Crystal Palace and the League Cup semifinal first leg between Chelsea and Arsenal.
However, this was the first time it had actually been needed to reverse a decision.
“I didn’t know if I was onside or offside but I agree totally now that I was onside. I was concentrating on the goal, I didn’t think if I was onside or offside but Riyad told me that I was onside. We just waited to see what the decision was,” Iheanacho said.
Former Manchester City youngster had already put Leicester ahead in the 43rd minute at the King Power Stadium, running onto Islam Slimani’s pass and firing home.
The VAR is however not without its controversies but English football’s referees chief, Mike Riley, professed himself to be satisfied with the way the technology has performed in the two games it has been used in so far.
The VAR was deployed firstly at the FA Cup third round clash between Brighton and Crystal Palace and then in the League Cup semi-final first leg match between Chelsea and Arsenal.
It earned the stamp of approval from Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, whose latest battle with officials has landed him a three match touchline ban.
On Wednesday, referee Martin Atkinson consulted with video ref Neil Swarbrick, who sat in the Premier League’s control room in west London, on two penalty appeals, one for each team but no decisions were overturned.
Riley, who is general manager of the Professional Game Match Officials Board (PGMOB), said things had gone very smoothly so far.
“It has gone very well in the first few games. We’ve had the opportunity to use it, it has been used very effectively and we’ve come out with the right outcomes. The whole idea of the protocol is to have minimum interference on the game but get the right decisions to have the maximum impact,” Riley told BBC Radio 5 Live.
Riley, a former top level referee who has been in his present role since June 2009, conceded that one of the decisions taken in Wednesday’s game took far longer than had been the case in training.
“That (1minute 25seconds) is a little bit longer than we have done in training. It typically takes the VAR around 30 to 40 seconds to look at something. But we are at the start of the process and it will take time for the VARs to become accustomed to this. The more we do of that, the faster we will be at it and the less impact we will have on the game,” said Riley.
“It is really important for spectators in the stadium to understand when it is being used and when not. Currently, if you look at the referee, you will see him put his finger in his ear but I accept that in the stadium that can be quite difficult to see so the question now is how can we improve that experience for spectators,” said the 53-year-old Englishman.
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte said he was “positive” of the new technology but was frustrated with the insufficient stoppage time at the end of the second half to accommodate for delays caused by VAR and injuries.
“For me, there’s disappointment about (not enough) extra time,” the Italian told Sky Sports. “In the second half, the doctor went onto the pitch twice and the referee stopped for VAR, so you have to give more minutes of extra time. In Italy, sometimes extra time can be seven, eight or nine minutes.”
Wenger questioned the delay between the incident and the VAR review after the second penalty appeal, following Danny Welbeck’s tackle on Cesc Fabregas in the box, was turned down by Atkinson but reviewed after several minutes.
“There were only two opportunities for them to intervene, the first one was straight away because the ball went out,” Wenger said after the match.
“But the second one for me it would look a bit strange… if the referee is uncertain maybe he should be able to block straight away. If there is no penalty, you give it to the defending team, because it looks a bit strange to go on for two minutes for example sometimes and then to come back… You cannot intervene straight away, it’s frustrating.”
Expectedly, Manager Claude Puel said he liked video assistant refereeing, after Leicester became the first club in English football to benefit from a VAR decision in their FA Cup win over Fleetwood.
“The time was not so long,” Frenchman Puel told BBC Radio 5 live. But Fleetwood counterpart Uwe Rosler said: “I don’t like it.”
The German, whose homeland has introduced VAR into the top flight this season, said: “In general in Germany there are split opinions. Some situations you can’t be 100% on VAR – is the decision right or wrong?
“My opinion is don’t complicate the game – it’s beautiful as it is. People try to make it different for some reason. I don’t like it, it interrupts the flow. Today we were on the wrong side but in general I don’t like it.”