Isaac Success was Nigeria’s star man when the Golden Eaglets arrived in the United Arab Emirates for the 2013 FIFA Under-17 World Cup.
Prior to the trip to the UAE, Nigeria had won the title thrice — 1985, 1993, 2007 — and Success was the striker the Eaglets were relying on to win their fourth title.
But, who played as a support striker during the qualifiers, snatched the spotlight from Success when Nigeria opened their campaign with a 6-1 defeat of Mexico at the Bin Zayed Stadium.
Iheanacho scored four goals in the encounter with Chidiebere Nwakali and Success scoring a goal apiece.
Following an injury blow, Success ended the tournament won by Nigeria with two goals to his name while the unheralded Iheanacho netted six times to emerge as the second highest goalscorer behind Sweden forward Valmir Berisha, who scored seven goals to win the championship’s Golden Boot.
Iheanacho won the Golden Ball as he was the tournament’s best player, while Success, who struggled to get playing time at modest Premier League outfit Watford last season, returned to Nigeria to nurse his injury.
Iheanacho sparked interest from a number of European clubs following his impressive display at UAE 2013.
It was no surprise that the Taye Academy attacker, who was 16 then, was linked with European powerhouses Manchester United, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Arsenal, Chelsea and Bayern Munich.
But Chilean manager Manuel Pellegrini, who was the then Manchester City coach worked hard behind the scenes to land the Nigerian in 2014.
Iheanacho broke into Manchester City’s first team the following year and ended the 2015/2016 with 14 goals in all competitions.
Breaking into the star-studded Manchester City squad meant the young striker had a ‘divine right’ to play for the Super Eagles.
He made his international debut as a substitute in the 0-0 draw against Swaziland in a Brazil 2014 World Cup qualifier before grabbing his first start in the Gabon 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Egypt last year. The encounter ended 1-1.
With the player replicating his performances at club level for the national team, he has since cemented his place in the Eagles, becoming an important player for the side.
His goal helped Nigeria defeat Tanzania 1-0 in a Gabon 2017 Africa Cup of Nations in Uyo on September 3, 2016 and progressed to score the Eagles’ second goal in their Russia 2018 World Cup qualifier against Zambia in Ndola on October 9, 2016.
The 20-year-old never wished to burst his bubble but the coming of Pep Guardiola from Bayern Munich to some extent did just that.
Iheanacho struggled to secure regular playing time last season after falling down the pecking order at the Etihad Stadium, with Guardiola preferring Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus.
The two South American strikers fitted into the Citizens manager’s high intensity pressing game last season. Although the Nigerian is arguably as gifted as Aguero and Jesus, he seems to lack the consistency and power to put defences under pressure and force them to make mistakes.
Iheanacho started only five Premier League games in 20 appearances — scoring four goals.
Although Brazilian Jesus missed a large spell of last season with a broken metatarsal, he scored seven league goals in 10 appearances. Argentina striker Aguero scored 20 league goals in 25 starts and 31 appearances.
Iheanacho is being linked with a move to Premier League mid-table teams Crystal Palace and West Ham after being deemed surplus to requirements at English powerhouse Manchester City.
But the player, who was tipped to become the next big thing after Lionel Messi, Neymar and Ronaldo following his head-turning performances in the Premier League last year, is now struggling to resolve his Manchester City future. He also faces a huge task to convince one of the European big boys that he is still good enough to play at the top level.
Iheanacho had a bad day at the office when the Eagles were disgraced 2-0 by their bitter rivals South Africa’s Bafana Bafana in Uyo on Saturday. He was a pale shadow of himself before Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr substituted him in the second half.
Former Nigeria captain Henry Nwosu believes the player is being played out of position at both club and the national team, hence his current struggles.
“Iheanacho is not a top striker but a support striker and a midfielder,” the 1980 Africa Cup of Nations winner told our correspondent on the telephone on Monday.
“I think he is finding it difficult to adapt to his role as a top striker at Man City and the national team
“Aguero and Jesus are ahead of him at Man City because they are playing their natural roles.”
Nwosu added, “If Iheanacho decides to leave Man City for a club he will be playing regularly, I will support his decision.”