Ndidi set to step into Kante role


Wilfred Ndidi

Festus Abu

Wilfred Ndidi has all but confirmed his imminent move  from Belgian outfit Genk to Premier League holders Leicester City in a five-year  deal  reportedly  worth £15m.

Manchester United were  also linked with a move for Ndidi,  who has played twice for Nigeria under Gernot Rohr, but the Foxes have certainly won the race to sign the defensive-midfielder, who can also play at centre-back. Ndidi will be joining forces with his Super Eagles’ teammate  Ahmed Musa, who  arrived at Leicester  from Russian powerhouse CSKA Moscow  on a four-year contract for a club-record fee of around £16m last summer.

After  guiding  the Smurfs  to  a 2-0  win against  Gent  at Cristal Arena on Tuesday,  the 20-year-old  bid his teammates farewell and confirmed he had played his last game for the  28-year-old club.

“This was my last game for Genk,”  the versatile  Nigeria midfielder, who  has already passed his  first  medical tests with Leicester, was quoted by  the Daily  Mail as saying.

  The player  paid  tribute to former Genk manager Peter Maes, who was sent packing from  the Luminus Arena by the Blue-White on Boxing Day, following poor results.

“I really want to thank Peter Maes,” Ndidi told Play Sports.

“Am I emotional? Yes, a little, especially with the situation surrounding Maes. He made me the player I am today. I got my transfer thanks to him.”

Genk have  prepared for life without their  prized Super Eagles player by signing  18-year-old Norwegian midfielder Sander Berge as Ndidi’s replacement.

But Genk  fans will miss  Ndidi, who the club signed  from Lagos  youth side Nath Boys last year for a paltry £80,000.  He went on to flourish  under Belgian  manager  Maes’  tutelage,  scoring four goals in 62 appearances for the side.

Reports  on Thursday claimed  that Ndidi, who  has yet to be granted a work permit to ply his trade in England, would  have no problem scaling the hurdle as the Foxes had  made a strong case for him.

Ndidi   would have  qualified  for an immediate work permit  in England   if Nigeria were  in the top 50 in the latest  FIFA  rankings – and being a regular player for the Eagles. However, Nigeria are currently 51st in the world and Ndidi  has not played 75 per cent of competitive games for his country.

Leicester  have been struggling  to recapture the form of their title winning exploits of  last season since France  midfielder N’Golo Kante dumped the side for  Chelsea last  summer on a five-year deal reportedly worth  £32m.

And  the Foxes’ Italian  manager Claudio Ranieri, who came close to confirming the deal on Thursday, believes Ndidi, who  emerged as one of the best defensive midfielders in the Belgian top flight last season, is an ideal replacement for Kante.

“I don’t know,” said Ranieri, when BBC Sport  asked about Ndidi’s impending signing.

“Let me see him, say good morning and welcome, and then I tell you. It is not my matter. Wait. You will enjoy the next day.”

Ranieri  signed  another Frenchman Nampalys  Mendy from    Nice  as a  replacement for  Kante but  the 24-year-old has been plagued by injuries.

Kante’s  hallmark was his stamina, tireless running and  his determination to get forward and capitalise on a lapse in the opponents’  defence to score a  goal last season.

Leicester  are currently  16th  in the Premier League table after   nine  losses, four  wins and  five draws in 18 games.

Under-fire Ranieri  will look to  Ndidi to help Leicester  save their  Premier League season by  providing  the needed depth and strength  currently lacking in their roster.

Joining the Foxes could be a big opportunity for  the player,   to cement his place in the  national team and  Ndidi will come under pressure from both fans of   his  English club and the  Eagles.

Rohr is looking  to increase his midfield options for the crucial  Russia 2018 World Cup qualifying doubleheader  against the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon  in August and the former Burkina Faso coach will certainly monitor Ndidi’s  performances in the Premier League.

Turkey-based Ogenyi Onazi’s below-par performances  during the  World Cup qualifying games against Zambia and Algeria performance highlighted the need for another natural  defensive midfielder for the national team.

Ndidi could force his way into consideration for a starting role in  the two-legged fixture against Cameroon    with top-drawer performances for  the Foxes in the Premier League on a weekly basis.

With attacking duo Manchester City’s Kelechi  Iheanacho and  Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi  automatic starters for the Eagles following their performances in the  Premier League Ndidi will be hoping to emulate  them.

Meanwhile, former Nigeria defender Patrick Pascal  has tipped  Ndidi to succeed at Leicester.

“I’m very happy for him (Ndidi)  and the national team because he is a good player,”  the Eagles’ coordinator, who says he has monitored the progress of  the player for some years, told our correspondent on the telephone on Thursday.

“Ndidi is  ripe enough to play for any team and I believe he will succeed in England.”

 The former Belgium-based player added, “Kante is a great player. I believe Ndidi is his ideal replacement at Leicester, because he plays  like  Kante.”

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