Just two years ago, Wilfred Ndidi was playing for Lagos amateur youth side, Nathaniel Boys, before he was spotted by scouts of Belgian side, K.R. C Genk. After a successful trial with the Belgium club, he made his debut for the club in January 2014. He was also part of the Nigerian team at the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup, where he put up a decent showing. Though, not very convincing in Super Eagles’ last two 2018 World qualifiers against Zambia and Algeria, he’s now set to play for Leicester. Kunle Adewale writes about Ndidi’s proposed move to English champions, Leicester and his chances of being successful
After doing the unthinkable last season by emerging English Premier League champions, it has been a different story for Leicester City this season. The champions now occupy the 16th position in the league. One of the reasons attributed to this unimpressive performance of Cladio Ranieri-led team is the exit of their tough man in the midfield–N’Golo Kante. That is why Leicester has made a January move for Nigeria’s Wilfred Ndidi as a replacement for Kante.
“I never had any doubt about his talent. He distinguishes himself anytime and he is focused. I always knew he would go places and I am not surprised at the height he is taking his football to,” the founder of Nathaniel Boys, Yemi Idowu told THISDAY.
Leicester had tabled a £16 million for the Genk midfielder, though the Belgian club wants £20 million for the Nigeria international but the Foxes fully expect to complete a deal early in the January transfer window. The 19-year-old is viewed as one of the brightest prospects in Belgian football and Genk know they are facing a losing battle to keep him.
But they are determined to maximise his value when the transfer window reopens with both clubs remaining in contact with a view to concluding a January deal. Ndidi is viewed as the long term replacement for N’Golo Kante, who left for Chelsea in the summer.
However, director of sport, Dimitri De Conde insisted that he would frustrate Ndidi’s move to Leicester in the January transfer window, just as he stated that the club is already planning to replace the player next summer if he eventually joins the Foxes. He added that Leicester is not the only club interested in the 20-year-old midfielder.
“Seeing Ndidi leave in January? It’s possible, but I’m going to do everything in my power to stop it from happening. Our plan was to replace him next season. Yes, we’re talking with Leicester, but they aren’t the only club interested,” De Conde told L’Avenir newspaper.
Ndidi will join Leicester after he completed a medical with the Premier League champion and has agreed a five-year contract. He will join his international team‑mate, Ahmed Musa.
In a chat with THISDAY, former Nigerian international, Waidi Akani said Ndidi’s proposed move to the English Premier League was a good omen for him, the Super Eagles and the Nigerian football fans.
“Without trying to take anything away from the Belgian league, it should be a stepping stone for any footballer that wants to go places. It should just be used as a ladder to join the big leagues in Europe and that is exactly what Ndidi has done. I watched him developed while he was with Nathaniel Boys and there was never any doubt about his talent,” Akani said.
The former Super Eagles defensive midfielder said the national team would also benefit from Ndidi’s Premier League move.
“His move to England would also benefit the national team technical crew, in that playing alongside national teammate, Musa they would develop good understanding, which would make the job of the Super Eagles coaches simpler.
“Moreover, the move to England would further expose Ndidi, as he would be seen week-in-week-out all over as against the Belgian league which is hardly seen on television.
“Nigerian football fans will be able to watch another of their players on a weekly basis. On the whole, the move is a welcome development and one can only hope and pray that he settles fast to the English style of football,” the former NEPA of Lagos player said.
Meanwhile, Alex McLeish, who bought the teenager when he was Genk Manager says Ndidi can eventually be the solution, saying the prospective signing can be their next Kante.
The former Birmingham and Aston Villa boss believes the Nigerian youngster is well-suited to the Premier League after snapping him up for Genk for a bargain of £80,000.
McLeish acted after a recommendation from scout Roland Janssen, who spotted Ndidi in Lagos in an academy tournament and brought him to Genk for a trial.
The 57-year-old Scot, who was in charge of the Belgians for the 2014-2015 Season, told MirrorSport: “He is Kante-like. He will cover the ground like Kante does. In terms of technique, you wouldn’t say he is the best passer in the world but he keeps it simple. I saw him on tape and at the next recruitment meeting we pushed the button. I immediately saw the speed of the boy.
“We had no money to spend on any bigger names to help the first team because those were the parameters under which I took the job. But I said, ‘Let’s get this guy’, I recommended we signed him for 100,000 Euros. I’ve taken a big interest in the kid since and they want a fortune for him now.”
McLeish handed Ndidi his debut in January 2015, when injuries and international call-ups to the Africa Cup of Nations saw him play Ndidi out of position at left-back. But he saw enough in a 1-0 away loss at Charleroi to know the youngster would have a big future.
The Scot’s successor, Peter Maes, then started to play Ndidi in midfield as he matured.
McLeish added: “I gave him his debut at left-back, because we were absolutely short. He did well for a kid just coming in that day and was amazing. He is lean and has a fantastic spring. His speed got him out of a lot of trouble and although we lost the game 1-0, we all agreed he could be a big player for the team.
“We all felt midfield would probably be where he could be most effective. He has blossomed after my successor decided to move him there.”
McLeish added: “I have always promoted kids, since my days at Rangers, Motherwell and Hibs
“Some of them don’t quite make it as there is a high attrition rate, but when you see the ones that do, it gives you great satisfaction. To see the progress Ndidi has made since is brilliant and he has had a great year at Genk.”
It however remains to be seen whether Ndidi would live up to expectations.
Born on December 16, 1996, Ndidi has made appearances for the Nigerian U-20 team at the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup. He is known for his versatility and can play as a central defender, defensive midfielder or full back.
Ndidi exploded onto the scene during his first full season in 2015/2016 Belgian league.Originally playing in the center-back position, he displayed a wide range of passing and shooting than needed for the role. He was redeployed as a defensive midfielder and central midfielder for the rest of the season. During the Belgian playoff game against Club Brugge, Ndidi scored a world class goal and it was named the goal of the season in the Belgian league.
He received the award as the third-best young player in the Belgian league for the 2015/2016 season.
Ndidi was part of the Nigerian youth setup during his time at Nathaniel Boys of Lagos. While playing the African U-17 Championship with Nigeria, he was excluded along with two other players from the competition as a precaution, following an MRI test that showed he was just slightly above the threshold.
Notwithstanding, he joined up with his teammates in the U-20 team the following year, forming the bedrock of the midfield. He was called up to the senior national team on October 8, 2015., making his debut in the friendly against DR Congo, and playing again a few days later in the 3-0 win against Cameroon, as a replacement for Mikel Obi.
Ndidi is expected to travel to England on January 1 ahead of his unveiling by Leicester.