by Segun Precious                                                                                                             
Oyinye
Wilfred Ndidi, the lanky 21- year old Leicester City midfielder,
holds the key to super Eagles success at the 2018 World Cup in
Russia.
The
player joined the 2016 EPL Champions in the winter of 2017 and halted
their slide into relegation just few months after tearing form books
to win the title, a very unlikely event that took place from a
turnaround after losing 5-2 at home to Arsenal.
The rest of the season saw the club concede less goals based on
defensive solidity wrought by their Italian coach Claudio Ranieri.
The defense was marshaled by Jamaican
International Wes Morgan, a Manchester United reject. Ironically,
most of the players in that title winning squad were rejected by more
illustrious clubs. That is a story for another day.
However,
hardly had the euphoria of that unlikely victory died down than the
team started stuttering towards relegation. Some pundits attributed
it to the sale of their workaholic midfielder Ngolo Kante- who is
reputed to cover almost every blade of grass on the pitch- to Chelsea
while others laid the blame on the doorstep of senior players who
resented the transfer dealings of the following summer with the
purchase of the likes of Ahmed Musa and their humongous wages.
Ranieri
got the boot and replaced by his assistant, Craig Shakespeare who
brought an instant turnaround. It also slightly coincided with the
January transfer of Ndidi who joined from modest Belgian side, Genk.
Ndidi brought back the steel in the midfield
since the departure of Kante and ended the rot of losing winnable
matches and saved Leicester blushes of becoming the first side to win
the title and get relegated the following season. The midfielder
incredibly slotted into the first team seamlessly and has been a
bedrock for the team till date. A recent
survey showed that Ndidi has had the best interceptions in the EPL in
the 2017/2018 season.
The
former Nigeria’s U-17 player also got the attention of the senior
national team handlers and was invited for the Super Eagles and made
his official senior international debut against Zambia in the 2018
World Cup qualifier against the Chipolopo of Zambia. He played as the
right back in that match. He had earlier featured for the team in two
friendly matches against DR Congo and Cameroon.
Ndidi,
who cut his football teeth with Nath Boys of Lagos, is a utility
player and can play in almost all the back position and central
midfield. Records show that he started
his football career as a striker/forward. Then to the central
defense.
Today,
Ndidi is regarded as one of the best midfielders in the EPL based on
his interventions for his team. He has done so well that Liverpool
are now sniffing around him in a deal suggested to be worth over 50m
pounds. This is just a little over two years
after his transfer fee cost 17m pounds. If he continues in this form,
bigger clubs will surely come for him. Hopefully he is injury free
and dictates the pace during the World Cup.
The
former Genk man, who had it rough in his early sojourn in Belgium has
now settled for a midfield role both at Leicester and Nigeria’s
Super Eagles. Though the German coach,
Gernot Rohr has brought in tactical discipline to the team it is
believed that the rough edges still need to be sorted out. And the
major area is the midfield where aging John Mikel Obi holds sway. A
solid midfield will ensure that the defense is not often badly
exposed while also giving defense splitting passes to the attackers.
A look at the performance
of the team under the German shows last minute loss of concentration
exemplified by last minute equalizers away to Cameroun and Algeria
through conceding avoidable penalties.
Ndidi
will hopefully combine with Mikel, who should be slightly upward,
Ogenyi Onazi/Oghenekaro Etebo in the midfield to tame that monster in
Lionel Messi in the last Group D match of the world Cup.
As
for the goalkeeper, Rohr has almost given the hint that rookie
Francis Uzoho will man the post in the absence of towering Carl
Ikeme. European coaches like tall goalkeepers, which effectively
rules out Ikechukwu Ezenwa while Daniel Akpeyi inspires little
confidence these days- remember his howler against Argentina? Uzoho
was on for the second half in that friendly against Argentina and
showed class with his composure, great footwork and fine reflexes.
Other
matches lined up are: against England in Wembley and DR Congo in Uyo
before they jet out to Putin’s Russia. By then those who deserve to
be there would have been able to prove it for all to see.
Nigeria
will be taking on Croatia, Iceland and Argentina in Group D of the
world cup and must be fully prepared to survive the group as Nigeria
is the lowest ranked team.
Full
schedule of friendlies:
Nigeria
vs DRC – May 28 (Nigeria)
England
vs Nigeria – Jun 2 (UK)
Nigeria
vs Czech – Jun 6 (Austria
Follow
me on twitter @precioussegun

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