Wilfred Ndidi: Can Leicester Ward-off Man United’s Prying Eyes?


When Leicester lost N’Golo Kante to Chelsea, it did not take the coaching crew long to find an able replacement in Wilfred Ndidi and for the second year running, he had won the Premier League Tackler of the Season. With Manchester United set to lose their midfield jewel, Paul Pogba this summer, attention is once again directed at the Nigerian midfielder as a possible replacement. How well Leicester is able to ward off Old Trafford scouts remains to be seen

The midfielder became the third Nigerian to feature in every Premier League game of a single season after Joseph Yobo and Victor Moses after he was named in Brendan Rodgers’ starting line-up for their meeting with Chelsea at King Power Stadium on Sunday.

In the process, he racked up 3,298 minutes of action to become Leicester City’s most-capped outfield player of the 2018-19 season, behind only goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel (3,420 minutes).

Overall, he made 83 interceptions, 143 total tackles and 80 clearances. Also, the former Genk man boasts of 1,985 total passes and 80 per cent passing accuracy. The 22-year-old also set a record of his own after becoming the first player to top the tacklers’ chart for two consecutive seasons.

Manchester United supporters have however urged their club to make a move for Ndidi in the summer transfer window as the club is set for a busy few months ahead as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer looks to overhaul his squad after failing Champions League qualification.

It seems like central midfield is one area in particular which United need to strengthen with Ander Herrera poised to leave the club at the end of the season.

If Herrera’s exit does materialise United supporters believe Leicester central midfielder Ndidi could be the ideal man to take his place after Ndidi’s scintillating performance against The Reds at Old Trafford.

Back in April 2018, the Daily Mail claimed Manchester United were one of the Premier League clubs interested in Ndidi after the 22-year-old has established himself as one of the hottest midfield prospects in the Premier League with his consistent displays for Leicester City over the past two seasons. But it is quite fascinating that the Nigerian international doesn’t get the praises he deserves.

Solskjaer will be looking to bring back the glory days at the club with several key signings in the summer and there are claims that the Norwegian is ready to offload as many as six players in what will be a massive summer overhaul ahead of the 2019-20 campaign.

As far as midfield is concerned, Herrera and Juan Mata’s deals are expiring at the end of the season and while the duo are negotiating new deals, there’s little guarantee that either will stay. If Herrera and Mata leave, and with speculation rife on Pogba’s move to Real Madrid, United will be left with Fred, Nemanja Matic, Andreas Pereira and Scott McTominay as options in central midfield.

If Solskjaer’s Red Army are to compete with Manchester City and Liverpool for the title next season, they need to bolster their midfield options. They need a replacement for Matic as the Serb doesn’t quite fit Solskjaer’s style of play and Ndidi would be a straight upgrade for Matic.

Ndidi is a midfield general who can be a destroyer, dictator of the game and score long-range belters for his team. An excellent tackler, the Nigerian reads the game very well and positions himself accordingly to snuff out the danger before it turns bigger. He is a very good passer of the ball and knows how to keep things simple when required.

It, however, remains to be seen how well the management of Leicester would be able to scare away lobbyist from Old Trafford and how much Ndidi himself is able to resist a move to the Theater of Dreams.

Ndidi said the experience of representing his country at the 2018 World Cup made him a better player.

He was one of the Super Eagles’ best players at Russia 2018, performing strongly in each of their three group matches against Croatia, Iceland and Argentina.

Playing against the likes of Lionel Messi and Luka Modric has inspired the Nigerian to take his game to a new level.

After signing a new contract with Leicester City which ties him to the Premier League club until 2024, Ndidi said the global tournament was a learning experience for him.

“The World Cup was an amazing experience and you see different kinds of players. You see players you see on TV and players from teams like Real Madrid,” Ndidi said to the Foxes’ official website.

“I would say I learned some things from these players. I’m playing against them and you know what they do, they think very fast.

“There is nothing like growing, so learning from all those things will make me grow. I’ll just keep pushing and give everything and look forward to the games.”

Just over four years ago, Ndidi was starring for Lagos amateur youth side- Nath 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. More than two years on, the management of Leicester City turned to Ndidi’s direction as a replacement for their diminutive midfielder, Kante that left for Chelsea.

After doing the unthinkable three seasons ago by emerging as English Premier League champions, it had been a different story for Leicester City seasons after as the team found it difficult to keep most of their star players, chief among which was their midfield battler-  Kante, which was why Leicester made a move for 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 Nath Boys, Yemi Idowu told THISDAY.

The then 19-year-old was viewed as one of the brightest prospects in Belgian football and the management of Genk knew it would be difficult to fence away ‘intruders’.

Ndidi, the Premier League’s most successful tackler by some distance last season, but his modesty means he doesn’t really view himself as such, rather choosing to stress the privilege he feels at representing his nation and people.

This concluded season, he has gotten better and particularly been massive for the Foxes in their recent games under new manager Brendan Rodgers.

In Leicester City’s 2-0 win over Bournemouth earlier in April, Ndidi made 16 tackles and interceptions, the second most by any player in a Premier League game.

“Watching him from the outside, he’s obviously a player that’s got good athletic ability and works very hard. I always have that sort of player, a clear, controlling player in the game. Sometimes they’re a defensive type like him that can really press the game and play simple, or sometimes it’s a more creative player, a playmaker from behind,” Rodgers said.

“He covers the ground so fast. His anticipation is very good, he reads the game, he smells the danger.”

Alex McLeish, who bought the teenager when he was Genk Manager, says Ndidi was always the solution to the vacuum created in Leicester midfield by Kante’s exit.

The former Birmingham and Aston Villa boss believes the Nigerian youngster is perfectly well-suited to the Premier League after snapping him up from Genk for a bargain £80,000.

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 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 game against DR Congo.