Wilfred Ndidi loves football. There’s no argument as to his passion for the game. His continuous availability until now is testament to his desire to play, but in a league like England’s, the body will always pose questions, especially when rest is hard to come by.
The man Ndidi replaced at Leicester, Ngolo Kante is gifted with availability. His great work rate has stood him out and he cornered many admirers in a short time. His ever-present style and effervescence ensures he is a representation of the perfect defensive midfielder to many managers, when he’s fit.
From Maurizio Sarri to Frank Lampard and Thomas Tuchel, Kante was deployed in a central midfield role that attempted to help his physical management but in every game he played in, his relentless running and innate desire stood out, but there’s the body with its demands.
Kante was significant to Chelsea’s European success two seasons ago but despite playing less than a decade in the Premier League, there’s a load his body can’t carry again. He has been in the treatment room in the last two seasons more than at any point in his career, and his mirror image is also in Leicestershire.
Ndidi started out as a central defender and it was only an MRI issue that stopped him from playing at the 2013 U-17 World Cup despite playing at the African Cadet Championship that year. As a form of compensation for his desire and passion to play, he was drafted into John Obuh’s U-20 team to the World Cup that year.
In two years, Ndidi was in another U-20 World Cup under Manu Garba and has played consistently ever since until recently. Availability is a question of management and in Arsenal’s Thomas Partey, Ndidi and Leicester can also learn the simple secrets the body keeps, albeit, in a hard way.
The Ghanaian midfielder was uber-available at Atletico Madrid, playing an average of 33 league games per season in the three seasons he played regularly at the club. He was also present in their European runs but it was only a matter of time before his body revolted.
At Arsenal, it has taken great effort to keep him playing despite his importance to the team and these are indications of the physical excesses players in that position suffer.
Ndidi like Kante and Partey are relentless in disposition and want their presence and physicality seen. They have great expression of their stamina and strength but there’s the need for management of such players, to keep them available for longer periods.
In his first three full seasons at Leicester, Ndidi played an average of 34 league games but featured in an average of 22 league matches in the last two seasons, excluding this season.
With another injury announced and his return date still being waited on, Leicester cannot confidently say it’s the last of his troubles.
There has been a surprise of sorts from Nigeria that the midfielder is yet to make a move to any of the top Premier League sides and issues like fitness concerns and the player’s physical exigencies become top considerations.
For Ndidi’s limited abilities and style, many clubs may be averse to making such potentially big moves as he’s of great stock. To no small measure, he’s adept at his best strength.
Leicester and the midfielder must press the right buttons about his fitness and keep him for as long as they both agree to work for. Already, the signs of a lack of confidence are beginning to creep in and that’s what a spell on the sidelines does to a footballer. It is even more worrisome when it’s a player who hardly takes chances in his execution.