Brendan Rodgers talks up Kelechi Iheanacho’s ‘mental toughness’

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Nick Mashiter, PA
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Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers hailed Kelechi Iheanacho’s mental strength after the striker’s scintillating form.

Iheanacho has scored 14 goals in his last 14 games ahead of Friday’s Premier League trip to Southampton.

He had not struck in the league before February and had previously gone a year, between September 2018 and September 2019, without a goal.

Iheanacho has been forced to play second fiddle to Jamie Vardy since arriving for £25million from Manchester City in 2017 but has now netted more, 17, than Vardy – who has top scored for Leicester every season since 2015-16.

Rodgers said: “Kelechi is a talent, we mustn’t forget that. He’s a big talent and came here for a large price-tag – and maybe just didn’t have quite the opportunities. That’s natural when you have one of Europe’s top strikers in front of him.

“It’s difficult, especially if you don’t play that system, but you have to tip your hat to his mental toughness. That’s one of the things that’s right up the top for me in an ideal footballer.

“He’s shown that mental toughness, he’s gone through spells, Even before I came here, they were moans and groans when he came onto the pitch. But I don’t think there’s any now when you look at what he’s producing and delivering.

“That’s a huge testament to Kelechi’s mentality. It’s not surprising because he is a really talented player. What’s great is that he’s taken the opportunity.

“And he’s flourished with it, it was about keeping his belief and his confidence.”

Iheanacho’s late winner in Monday’s 2-1 victory over Crystal Palace meant third-placed Leicester need three wins from their final five games to guarantee a top-four spot.

The 24-year-old had also started just two top-flight games this season before his scoring streak began against Fulham in February but Rodgers insisted Iheanacho was always a valued member of his squad.

He said: “That’s the key thing with players who are outside of the starting XI and not playing, as a manager you have to recognise and acknowledge their importance. Everybody will shine a torch on the guys who are playing.

“It wasn’t that Kelechi wasn’t in my plans, we were playing a different system, but he was always very important to my squad.

“I’m also the type of coach who doesn’t necessarily think too much about what I don’t have, I work with what I’ve got.

“Sometimes you can think ‘I want this and I need that’ – and you also want to improve. But it’s also about looking at the assets that you do have and maximising what they can give the squad.”