The English Premier League is home to some of the best midfielders in the world. Kevin De Bruyne, N’Golo Kanté, and Georginio Wijnaldum are just some of the great central midfielders that are elite for club and country. The fast and physical tempo of the league combined with the excellent technical prowess of the players requires clubs to find well-rounded central defensive midfielders that can defend and carry the ball up the pitch at a high level for 90 minutes.
Leicester City found a treasure trove of a CDM when they signed Wilfred Ndidi from Genk in January 2017. Ndidi quickly proved to be another gem that Leicester’s shrewd scouting team have unearthed. Other talents that Leicester have found and developed include, but are not limited to: Riyad Mahrez, Jamie Vardy, N’Golo Kanté, Harry Maguire, and more recently, Çağlar Söyüncü.
In just two years at Genk after joining from Lagos based Nathaniel Boys, Ndidi proved to be one of the best midfielders in Belgium. SmarterScout, which ranks player stats in comparison to the league they play in from 0-99, ranked Ndidi as one of the best defensive players in the 2016/17 Jupiler Pro League. His Aerial Duel, Disrupting opposition moves, and Recovering moving balls were all ranked at-least 94. In the group stages of the 2016/17 UEFA Europa League, Ndidi had more tackles and interceptions than any other player in the competition. This was enough for Leicester to pull the trigger on the young Nigerian who they had been scouting for quite some time. Sold for £17 million, Ndidi joined the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Thibaut Courtois, Yannick Carrasco, Divock Origi, and Sergej Milinković-Savić as players that Genk had nurtured and sent off to bigger clubs.
In joining the reigning Premier League champions, Ndidi was given the near-impossible task of filling the shoes of N’Golo Kanté, who had left for Chelsea in the summer transfer window. In his first season at Leicester, Ndidi averaged 4.0 and 2.1 tackles and interceptions per game, respectively. Which came close to Kanté’s 4.7 and 4.2 tackles and interceptions in his lone season with the Foxes.
Ndidi picked up the pace once he settled into the side though, as he had the most tackles in both the 2017/18 (138) and 2018/19 (143) seasons. This season, as of January 26, Ndidi has 86 tackles, second behind his teammate Ricardo Pereira. He is a league leader in cutting out passes too, as he has the most interceptions in the league so far with 56. Ndidi holds his own when comparing his stats to other players in the top five European leagues (Spain, France, Italy, Germany, and England). His 4.1 tackles per game rank 3rd, while his interceptions per game rank 4th.
Leicester signed the Nigerian for his defending prowess, but since coming to England, Ndidi has become one of the most all-round players after improving on his passing and dribbling abilities. Ndidi has enabled this Leicester side to average 55% possession, which is much more than the 42.4 percent that they averaged in their 2015/16 title-winning season. Calm and composed, Wilf has improved his ball control with his ‘Bad Controls per game’ down from 1.5 to 0.6. He is also being dispossessed at his lowest rate since the 2016/17 season, at only 0.8 times per game.
Ndidi has also cut down on his poor passes, with his unsuccessful short and long passes per game down to 6.1 and 2.0, respectively. It is crucial for a CDM not to show off flashy passes and dribbles, but to limit poor control and passes as much as they can, which is exactly what Ndidi has done. To simply highlight this, Ndidi only has one error leading to a goal since joining the Foxes in 2017.
The heart of this Leicester City team, Ndidi has been on top form this season, his WhoScored average rating of 7.43 ranks 6th in the league, ahead of any other central defensive midfielders. When comparing his average rating to the other top five leagues, he ranks 32nd.
Ndidi also poses a goal threat from long range, with his powerful strikes instilling fear into opposing goalkeepers. In only 3 shots on target this season, Ndidi has scored twice, meaning that his shots have only been saved once.
Rated at around £46 million by TransferMarkt, it is likely that clubs will have to pay upwards of £70 million to secure the Nigerian’s signature. At 23 years old, Wilfred Ndidi is yet to hit his prime. If he continues to refine his skills, Ndidi will become the best CDM in world football.