Sunday, October 9, 2016, was the day. On that sunny afternoon, Nigeria started their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign with a 2-1 victory over Zambia at the Levy Mwanawasa Stadium.
In what was Gernot Rohr’s second game as Super Eagles coach, Nigeria kicked off their qualifying campaign with a much-needed victory courtesy of goals from Alex Iwobi and Kelechi Iheanacho.
Following the win, the goalscorers received praises from many, and there was also this general belief that the Super Eagles have two of the best young talents in Africa.
At that time, Iwobi was playing with Arsenal and could’ve represented England at the international level. But the youngster followed in the footsteps of his uncle- the legendary Austin Jay-Jay Okocha, to play for Nigeria.
While Iwobi grew up with the Arsenal academy, Iheanacho route was different. The Imo state born star talent got worldwide recognition at the 2013 FIFA U-17 World Cup, which Nigeria’s Golden Eaglets won.
He won the Golden Ball and also the Silver Shoe with six goals in the competition. Iheanacho also represented Nigeria’s U-20 team at the 2015 U-20 World Cup, but Nigeria went out at the Round of 16.
However, the then-teenager was still a player in high-demand with many clubs interested in his services. Manchester City won the race for his signature in 2015, although it looks like a wrong move now, that’s a story for another day.
2015 was also the year Iwobi made his first-team debut for Arsenal, which means Nigeria’s best talents were playing in two of England’s topsides.
However, after a year, it was clear Iheanacho’s future lies away from Manchester City due to the array of stars at the Etihad. Meanwhile, Iwobi went to become a regular member of the first team, but Arsenal fans still wanted more from him.
By January 2017, Manchester City sold Iheanacho to Leicester City for 25 million pounds, While Iwobi joined Everton for 35 million pounds two years later.
Many believed the moves would give them more freedom and put them under less pressure. However, both players have failed to take the opportunity, and their careers are at crossroads.
Since arriving at the King Power Stadium, Iheanacho has been a shadow of the player he was at the U-17 World Cup. The 23-year-old has made a total of 89 appearances for the Foxes, scoring a meagre 20 goals in those games.
It was a case of mixed fortunes for him last season. The Nigerian international’s found himself frozen out of league games until the start of December.
His first league game last season was against Iwobi’s Everton, and it was also the turning moment for him. With the foxes trailing 1-0 at home, Iheanacho came on for Ayoze Perez to set up Jamie Vardy’s equaliser before scoring the winner.
He had a decent run after then, scoring nine more goals in all competitions and registering three assists. However, despite the good form in the second half of the season, Iheanacho’s days at Leicester are numbered.
Leicester missed out on top four on the final day last season, but it could’ve been different if they had an able deputy for Vardy.
Iheanacho has a contract that runs till 2022 at Leicester City, but his performances need to improve if he is to see it out.
There have even been reports in some quarters that Leicester City’s manager, Brendan Rodgers is considering listening to offers for the Nigerian to fund the purchase of Celtic’s striker, Odsonne Edouard.
Iwobi is also facing a similar situation at Merseyside. The Super Eagles midfielder signed for Everton on deadline day last summer with the hope he would be able to express himself more on the pitch.
However, it has been the same old story since he arrived at Goodison Park. He started well scoring in two of his first three games, but his level dropped drastically afterwards.
During his time at the Emirates, Iwobi was criticised for his inconsistencies and poor end product, which has not improved at Everton.
He has only played for just one season, but the Toffees fans have expressed their frustrations at his performance even though modern fans are fickle.
The major conundrum for every manager that has managed Iwobi is finding the perfect role for him. He prefers playing as an attacking midfielder, but he’s not decisive enough.
So most times he’s played out wide which stifles his output. With Everton bringing in James Rodriguez, Allan and possibly, Abdoulaye Doucoure, the upcoming season is crucial to Iwobi’s longterm future.
Toffees manager, Carlo Ancelotti preference for a 4-4-2 formation means Iwobi is likely to be deployed on the wings for most parts of next season as it is hard to see him play ahead of Everton’s potential signings.
It may be an overstatement to say they have regressed. Still, with the way their careers have turned out so far, Iwobi and Iheanacho need a strong performance next season, else their story could be similar to the players that failed to fulfil potential.