It is not often a player gets all the plaudits without registering a goal or assist. Wilfred Ndidi was that hero for Leicester City in the hard-fought 2-1 Premier League victory at Burnley.
A statistical rarity represented something special for Leicester fans who placed bets among the variety of sites such as Amazingbet. Called upon in the sixth minute after Harry Maguire received the earliest red card in four years, Wes Morgan capped an unexpectedly lengthy contribution with the goal that gave the Foxes a victory.
The Jamaican, brought on to shore up the defence, nodded a brilliant Youri Tielemans’ cross at the death – which earned him a dressing-room round of applause. James Maddison well-curled free-kick gave the visitors a shocking lead. Burnley teenager Dwight McNeil pegged back.
If anyone merited wave reviews, the first name was Morgan. However, Ndidi beat him despite not scoring or teeing up his teammates to finish. The Nigerian was too busy for that. He ensured that the Foxes’ one-man shortage wasn’t exploited. In clear terms, he covered the spaces of two players.
Ndidi was simple. He did the basic water-bottle carrying role, adding glamour. His resilience frustrated Burnley, unable to unlock the defence. The hosts were vigorously shielded by the ubiquitous 22-year-old, though Dyche claimed a penalty for the Nigerian’s challenge on Charlie Taylor.
“They carried it out tactically very well with 10 men,” Rodgers said as quoted by the guardian. “We have resilience and spirit in this squad. When you come to Burnley, style alone won’t get you points. You need to have steel.”
By steel, Rodgers implied every team needed a ‘Wilfred Ndidi’. An anchorman grateful to shield the back without necessarily worrying about personal glory. Against the Clarets, the imposing Nigerian racked up four tackles more than any other player in the game.
The Burnley rendition pretty sums up Ndidi’s continuous rise in stock since switching from Genk in January 2017. He is among an elite group that garnered over 100 tackles. The Super Eagle doesn’t just dive into legs for the fun of it. It is well timed and effective. His 77 per cent successful take-ons ranks among the division’s best.
It isn’t the same delight for compatriot, Kelechi Iheanacho, though. These days, the idea that the Nigerian and Marcus Rashford were once similarly acclaimed seems absurd. One evolved to an elite poacher, the other an overrated flop. It’s even more absurd now that Ndidi was turned down for a youth tourney Iheanacho championed.
The pair took different paths to the King Power. The striker had it smooth after stunning for Nigeria at the FIFA U17 World Cup in 2013. Three solid years in Manchester opened the Leicester doors. Ndidi, on the other hand, took pale steps. He was offered a contract in Belgium after several failed trials. He landed in England in two years.
Iheanacho and Ndidi are two important players for Nigeria. But at the moment, the former may have to better his solitary one league strike in 25 matches to earn a recall. Else Coach Gernot Rohr may prefer to play Ndidi upfront who has more fruits.