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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