Riyad Mahrez. Jamie Vardy. Ngolo Kante. Three prime examples of the significant impact a knowledgeable and composed recruitment team can have on a club.
Riyad Mahrez for example, signed from French Ligue 2 side, Le Havre for £400k and an individual who has been subject to £60m + transfer speculation in recent seasons. Jamie Vardy, well everyone knows the Englishman’s emphatic rise from non-league Stocksbridge Park Steels to appearing for England in the World Cup. Finally, Ngolo Kante, the player who was too small to play football. Signed from Caen for £8m and a footballer who after intercepting almost everything that passes him in 90 minutes, could play another 90 minutes and do just as valuable job. Sold onto Chelsea for £32million.
These players were essentially nobodies in the footballing world before their moves to Leicestershire. This is all credit to the players; however, it is credit to the team Leicester have behind them, their structure, their aims and their ability to pick a diamond from the rough. The three players already mentioned have been some of Leicester’s stand-out performers in recent campaigns and have made an influential impact to the squad. It is fair to say that the facilities and infrastructures surrounding the players at Leicester in comparison to what they left behind them is significantly better, yet nonetheless they are now incredible players and could without a doubt be considered in most clubs across Europe.
The story behind all this is another speculative talent Leicester have identified. Wilfred Ndidi. Signed from Belgium club Genk, the Nigerian has proved himself to be a top quality Premier League player and is week by week improving in the centre of the park for the Foxes.
At only 21, the 6ft Nigerian international has a little bit of everything to offer to Leicester and is a vital component to the core of Claude Puels team. He is a physical, aggressive and self-assured athlete who offers much to a Leicester City team which he is now certainly, a pivotal element in their clockwork.
One of his many profound features is his ability to take the ball from oncoming opponents. When Kante joined from Caen back in 2015, his ability to win the ball back was noticeable and almost merged itself in to a ‘standard Leicester performance’ which would include pacey counter-attacks and a courageous defence. After Kante’s first season with the Foxes he finished the season at the top of the tackling charts across all 5 top European leagues too. This honour now belongs to Ndidi and in terms of the Premier League table, he is significantly above his fellow Premier League players. He has made 113 tackles in the Premier League this season which is 28 ahead of Everton’s Idrissa Gueye on 85.
Alongside his physicality and strength on the ball, he can score a goal too. The Nigerian has 4 goals to his name since he began at Leicester City, with two memorable strikes amongst these, most notably against Derby in the FA Cup last season. In Summer 2018, Ndidi will have been on the books at Leicester City for only a year and a half and being the transfer to replace Ngolo Kante, he quickly cemented his place within the Leicester ranks and has become a regular starter at the King Power.
It has been reported in local Leicestershire and Liverpool papers within the last few weeks that Liverpool are looking to bring the Nigerian to Merseyside come Summer and he would certainly make an influential addition to Klopp’s side. It is being reported that Liverpool are prepared to pay up to £50 million for the Leicester centre midfielder come the transfer window, this undoubtedly to cover the likely departure of German, Emre Can. However, as seen with Riyad Mahrez the last few transfer windows, Leicester would certainly be reluctant to sell and would only let the 21 year-old leave if the price was right.
Sitting at only 21 years old and already having 14 caps for his international side, Nigeria, it would be no surprise if Ndidi will find himself not in the blue of Leicester in time to come and there will be plenty of teams sniffing around for his services. As for now, he is a Leicester player and no doubt enjoying his experience in England. With Nigeria qualifying for Russia this summer, it will be the world he has to impress then and not just the 30,000 inside the King Power on a Saturday come Summer. Only time will tell for the youngster.
Written by Eamon Kitching.