ANALYSIS: Super Eagle, Wilfred Ndidi ‘heading in the right direction’

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According to CIES Football Observatory’s algorithm, during the last three months, the transfer value of Nigeria’s Wilfred Ndidi has increased 33 per cent from 48.7 million Euros to 64.8 million Euros.

That is a steady rise for a player, who joined Leicester City in January and became a mainstay of Nigeria’s national football team – the Super Eagles. In the list made up of 100 under-21 players, Ndidi came in 11th – a commendable position as a defensive midfielder.

Kylian Mbappe came in first, ahead of Dele Alli and Leroy Sane. Apart from Davidson Sanchez, who was named 10th – all the players ahead of Ndidi are either strikers or offensive midfielders.

After the first 11 games in the English Premier League [EPL], whoscored.com revealed the Nigerian had made “61 tackles and interceptions combined, more than any other player in the division after 11 games”.

Not surprising for a player nicknamed ‘The Octopus’ by fans of his former Belgian side, Genk. FourFourTwo said of the gangly midfielder, “the 6ft 2in midfielder is a ball-winning machine, all legs but not cumbersome and capable of hovering up possession for his side with relative ease. When he wants the ball, the chances are he’ll get it no matter where he is on the pitch.”

Whoscored follows up their analysis with this – he is said to have strong aerial, ball-interception and tackling traits while his major weakness is passing.

And it is true! After winning the ball for his side, Ndidi has to improve on his distribution. The good part of this education is that the very experienced Spaniard, Vicente Iborra, now pairs the Nigerian youngster in defensive midfield position for Leicester. The Spaniard seems to have an extra second on the ball to make the right passing decision.

Ndidi, in the English Premier League, has scored no goals this season, creating six chances and two assists.

“Ndidi has completed 515 passes this season with a pass accuracy of 74 per cent, of which 91 per cent were forward passes.”

Comparing that to Iborra – “Iborra, in the English Premier League, has scored one goal this season, creating five chances and no assists. Iborra has completed 328 passes this season with a pass accuracy of 79 per cent, of which 82 per cent were forward passes.”

 

Now, let’s look for the top five defensive midfielders in the world and see what they are doing better than the Nigerian.

 

Name Matches Played Successful Passes Forward Passes Chances Created Tackles Won Goals Age
Sergio Busquets

 

14 861

 

660 7 23 1 29
Nemanja Matic

 

15 842 664 6 15 0 29
Casemiro

 

12 551 422 11 35 3 25
N’Golo Kante

 

12 653 458 16 30 1 26
Arturo Vidal

 

11 594 393 21

 

30 4

 

30
Wilfred Ndidi 15 515 470 6 36 0 20

 

In his assist in the game against Stoke, Ndidi excellently executed a tackle on Mame Biram Diouf on the halfway line that set up Riyad Mahrez for Leicester’s second goal.

At the point of the tackle, Ndidi read the developing danger, snuffed it out and inadvertently created an assist for his team to win the game.

It is said there are four great qualities a defensive midfielder must possess:

Above average defensive skills – Ndidi honed his defensive abilities as a central defender in his youth days and was a central defender in the victorious 2013 Nigeria U-17 team.

Great engine – Sometimes, watching Ndidi, one can get confused on his exact position within the team structure because of his indefatigable endurance to cover every blade on the pitch.

Positional Sense – Ice hockey legend, Walter Gretzky, said: “Skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been.” The ability to be in the position to put out the fire is one that would come to Ndidi with more games.

Releasing the ball – the mantra of football remains to receive, retain, and release. For the defensive midfielder, the release is very important as it could mean a win or a loss. Ndidi must determine better when to carry the ball forward and when to release a particular player over the other.

Ndidi is already strong in the first three; when he improves the fourth appreciably, he would then join the pantheons of the world’s best footballers in his position.


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