While Brendan Rodgers is often applauded for forging the Nigeria international into a top-level performer, the midfielder credits Peter Maes for his impact on his career.
Super Eagles star Ndidi has heaped praises on his former boss at Genk, Maes, for the role he played in helping to transform him from a centre-back to a defensive midfielder.
Now regarded as one of football’s finest tacklers, Ndidi didn’t start life in the middle of the park but at the heart of the defence.
The Nath Boys Academy graduate, however, found chances to impress as a centre-half limited because of his slight frame.
But when Maes took over from Alex McLeish as the manager at the Luminus Arena, he saw the potential in the young Nigerian and had the patience to groom into the new role.
Despite initial struggles, Ndidi adapted quickly as a ball-winning midfielder before Leicester City signed the 23-year-old as a replacement for N’golo Kante.
Now considered among the world’s best defensive midfielders, Ndidi knows his career could have headed in a different direction if not for the influence of his old boss.
“I was signed (to Genk) by Alex McLeish – who was the manager then, but he was using me as a left-back and as a right-back, because we had [Kalidou] Koulibaly and [Kara] Mbodji and [Christian] Kabasele playing in the centre back positions,” Ndidi narrated to Out of Home Podcast.
“I was too skinny to play in that position, and everywhere I went, I was told that I had to work hard, you have to build your muscles and all that.
“McLeish left after six months, and the new manager [Peter Maes] came in and transformed me into a defensive midfielder. It was another challenge, and I had to prove myself.
“That was another pressure for me because I was trying to prove myself being a central defender, and he moved me to a position where I never played before.
“I was nervous, scared, but I was doing well in training, but that was very different from a game situation.”
“My first game playing in that position was against Gent who were preparing for the Champions League plus it was an away game. I was substituted in the first half, I was so sad, and I didn’t know what was going on in the pitch. I was just running like a headless chicken.”
However, despite the experience on his debut, Ndidi revealed he got the backing of the manager who kept encouraging him for obvious reasons.
“The manager called me during the next training and kept encouraging me because he knew I was nervous. He told me, ‘just play with your qualities, be yourself and keep it simple’.
“In the next game, I was substituted again in the first half, but the thing was that the manager believed in me. He saw something in me, and he keeps on pushing me to be better.
“I got confident to the extent that I could shoot because I couldn’t shoot before for fear of being substituted in the first half. Here I am today.
“The manager didn’t change my position and left me there. He just kept encouraging me.”