The Nigerian star receives enthusiastic praise from pundits, fans and neutrals, but it has never sparked any concrete interest in the Super Eagle
Wilfred Ndidi’s paradox has gone under the radar and little to no mention is made: the Leicester City man is congratulated in the heavens every year, but receives little interest from leaders.
Perhaps the supposed belief is driven by the average fan’s thirst for transfer rumors during the window to make it look like the club they’re invested in is making moves for the right players.
As good players, Ndidi fits that bill overall, given West Africa’s development into one of Europe’s leading defensive midfielders.
He arrived in January 2017, supposed to be N’Golo Kante’s replacement, but he ditched those comparisons to carve out a niche for himself after improving dramatically at King Power Stadium.
However, despite the Nigerian’s growth, he remains at the Foxes with little to no ties to bigger clubs in the rumor mill.
Given that the Foxes have sold several assets in recent years – Kante and Ben Chilwell have left for Chelsea, Riyad Mahrez has been signed by Manchester City and Harry Maguire has left for Manchester United – Ndidi’s situation is surprising.
While Jamie Vardy stayed, he almost left for Arsenal in 2016 before moving to the side. The Englishman’s stay in Leicester was not due to a lack of interest in his services, but to a personal decision on the part of the prolific frontman.
Even James Maddison is apparently wanted, with the Gunners considering the attacking midfielder after losing Emiliano Buendia and, maybe, Martin Odegaard.
With Ndidi, however… nothing and the lack of genuine interest is puzzling.
Chelsea are reportedly watching Declan Rice of West Ham United or Franco-Cameroonian Aurelien Tchouameni of Monaco, while Liverpool and Arsenal are said to be interested in Yves Bissouma of Brighton & Hove Albion. Moreover, Manchester United’s need for a true defensive midfielder has been noticeable for some time.
Regardless, the Blues’ interest in Rice has not waned despite the sacking of Frank Lampard, Mikel Arteta and Jurgen Klopp could draw attention elsewhere if the Brighton man stays with the Seagulls and the United’s Jadon Sancho obsession suggests their defensive hole in midfield could stick around for another season.
Some observers have cited the Nigerian’s average ball progress and disappointing ball carry as possible factors deterring potential contenders.
The Leicester man plays fewer progressive passes by 90 (2.36) than Rice and Bissouma (2.96 and 3.26 respectively) and makes significantly fewer passes in the box than the pair – 0.17 to 0, 66 from Rice and 0.61 from Bissouma.
While the West Ham midfielder has been criticized, especially during the current European Championship, for his ineffectiveness in building his squad, he is making up for this alleged deficiency in his ball carrying somewhat.
The England international achieved more progressive ball ranges by 90 (5.16) than the Brighton man (4.54) with Ndidi’s 1.78 range average strikingly lower. Additionally, the Leicester star rarely moved with the ball in the opposition’s final third – averaging 0.79 range in that area of the pitch – unlike Hammer (1.84) and the star from Mali (1.79).
Indeed, the fact that Youri Tielemans played deeper in 2020/21 to help the Foxes’ ball progress further underscores the aforementioned point.
The Belgian midfielder’s altered role may have allowed the Nigerian to focus largely on winning the ball, but could that unwittingly have put the bigger clubs off?
Even more worrying is the injuries suffered by the former Genk player over the past two seasons. After starting 17 of 18 games in his first months at the club, Ndidi started 33 and 37 Premier League games respectively in 2017/18 and 18/19.
However, there has been a considerable drop in the past two seasons in which the presenter has played 29 times in 19/20 before four fewer starts in the campaign that just ended.
In contrast, Bissouma started 35 of Brighton’s games last season while Rice has been reliable and injury-free at West Ham for the past three years, starting a total of 104 PL games since 18/19.
Of course, Ndidi’s numbers and exhausted departures in 20/21 come with a respective caveat that he sometimes moonlighted at center-back, while Foxes’ involvement in Europe and success of the FA Cup put the necessary context to things… the busy schedule was always going to take its toll.
That said, he only missed three league games with injury after returning in December, which has helped him overcome those injury issues, although next season will reveal more.
Unsurprisingly, the Super Eagle has led the way for 90 tackles and interceptions, with the stars of Brighton and West Ham ranking 14th and 30th when the metric is adjusted for players who have made important appearances.
Either way, the feeling that the pair’s overall play is more complete could continue to affect interest in the Nigerian star going forward, despite rave reviews for his qualities as a starting midfielder.
At 24, it is obviously too early to take an alarmist look at Ndidi’s situation, but the relative lack of interest in a player who is arguably one of the best players in his position is starting to worry.