Kelechi Iheanacho

Cottee’s Admiration For Red-Hot Iheanacho

Former Leicester City striker Tony Cottee spoke of Kelechi Iheanacho’s mental toughness after the Nigeria forward lit up King Power Stadium and many away venues throughout 2021.
More on this story...

- Tony Cottee reflects on Kelechi Iheanacho’s goalscoring efforts in 2021
- The Nigeria international scored his first hat-trick for the Football Club in March
- He was also named as March’s Premier League Player of the Month

The No.14 found the net 19 times for the Foxes throughout 2020/21, with all but three of those strikes coming in between February and May.

It was a period during which he was undoubtedly in the form of his career, and his performances left Cottee – often on co-commentary for LCFC Radio – thrilled with what he was witnessing from the fellow frontman.

Speaking to during the summer break, Cottee explains why Iheanacho has had to show mental toughness to become a key member of the City squad.

“Since he arrived from Manchester City, Jamie Vardy has been so good, so it’s been difficult for him,” Cottee said. “Football is obviously about your skills and talent, but it’s also just as much about your mental side of the game.

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Kelechi Iheanacho
Kelechi Iheanacho

The striker scored a brace against Manchester United in the Emirates FA Cup Quarter-Finals.

“Putting myself in Kelechi’s shoes, it must have been hard to deal with that, but what I admire about him – I think it was the game I covered for LCFC Radio – he came into the team against Fulham and he scored.

“It wasn’t just that he scored, though. It was his overall game and contribution to the team. From that moment onwards, he just had so much confidence and that sort of arrogance as a centre-forward that you’re going to score every time you play.

“It’s not an easy position to play, and if you don’t score goals and you’re not in the team, it’s very frustrating. I admire him for coming through what he has, and then to set the standards that he has over the last three months and score the goals he did – his mental toughness and to want to go and prove people wrong.”

His strike in the 2-0 success over Fulham proved to be the first of two important efforts in February, with the second a last-gasp header against Brighton & Hove Albion to send his side into the quarter-finals of the Emirates FA Cup.

Then came March, and with it an incredible seven goals in four games, including his maiden City hat-trick in the 5-0 victory over Sheffield United, and a brace against Manchester United as Leicester advanced to the FA Cup Semi-Finals, where he also netted the winner against Southampton.

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Kelechi Iheanacho
Kelechi Iheanacho

The striker's first hat-trick for the Club came in a 5-0 win over Sheffield United.

His form earned him the Premier League Player of the Month award for March, and Cottee believes Brendan Rodgers’ switch in formation, which allowed for two strikers, was integral in Iheanacho’s goalscoring exploits.

“The goals were flying in and his confidence was sky-high,” he said. “I felt he formed a really good partnership with Jamie as well. As an ex-Leicester player and ex-centre-forward myself, I love it when teams play two up front because I just think it gives you so many more options. It brings so much more to the team.

“He was outstanding, especially in March. I remember the hat-trick he scored and there were some absolutely fantastic goals. We’ve always known he’s a fantastic finisher, that’s never been in doubt.

“I had it myself consistently throughout my career where managers have told me that they know I can score goals. Martin O’Neill said it to me at Leicester, but it’s about bringing the other side to your game as well.

“You’ve got to work hard for the team and that’s not always easy as a centre-forward because I think, by nature, if you’re a goalscorer, you’re almost in ‘selfish mode’ because your focus and your aim is to score goals.

“I think Kelechi got everything right in the games that I saw. Every aspect of his game, he was playing as good as he’s ever played in his career.”

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Kelechi Iheanacho
Kelechi Iheanacho

His solitary effort versus Southampton booked Leicester City a spot in the Emirates FA Cup Final.

Cottee went on to praise Rodgers’ tactical intelligence, with the Northern Irishman often making game-changing substitutions or switches in stratagem to give his outfit the best opportunity to win games.

He continued: “As a manager, you scratch your head at times. If you go through a difficult patch, you look and search for other ideas. That’s something that I admire about Brendan – his ability to identify when you need to make a change, and also to be brave enough to do it.

“There’s not that many managers that are playing two up front in the Premier League. You have to be brave because if you take the player out of midfield and put him up front, you then might be light in midfield, You’ve got to be brave and have the quality of players that Leicester have got in that midfield area to be able to deal with that.

“Jamie’s overall game was excellent too, and he was contributing to the team. What Kelechi did over those last three months was to ask Brendan the question: ‘Do I start with two up front next season?’. That’s going to be difficult for Brendan to look at.

“You have to take into account form in pre-season, but going off what happened towards the end of the season, that’ll be a nice problem for Brendan to have.”

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Kelechi Iheanacho
Kelechi Iheanacho

Leicester's No.14 celebrates winning the Emirates FA Cup for the first time in the Club's 137-year history.

Although many will point to Iheanacho’s form in front of goal, Cottee believes the Nigerian is reaping the rewards of developing his all-round game.

“It’s probably easy to say now that I’m retired, but I always found scoring goals the easy part,” he added. “The hard part for me was the rest of the game. If you believe in your ability and you know you have the talent to score goals, as I said about Kelechi, you then have to bring everything together.

“The one thing that gets you on that sort of run is confidence, really. That’s the only way I can describe it, and the way you get confidence is when a goal goes in and then all of a sudden, another one goes in.

“In my early days at West Ham, in the first seven games of the season, I didn’t score one goal. I felt like I could have stayed out there without anyone else on the field and I wouldn’t have scored! And then I got a jammy goal at Sheffield Wednesday and scored for the next six games on the trot.

“It’s an amazing feeling when you get that confidence, and you can’t explain when it’s going to happen – it doesn’t work that way.

“You have to adapt as you go through the season. That’s why I admire Jamie and Kelechi, because they keep coming back for more, keep putting in consistent performances and keep scoring goals.”

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