What can we expect from Islam Slimani after signing for Leicester City?
Claudio Ranieri has already overseen a remarkable feat in the history of Leicester City, with their maiden Premier League win in 2015/16 after being written off by 5000/1 odds with the bookies prior to the start of the season. Now, in an effort to follow up the success of last season, the Italian has now seen the Foxes smash their transfer record, bringing Algerian forward Islam Slimani to the King Power Stadium from Sporting Lisbon on a five-year deal for a fee believed to be in the region of £29 million.
Slimani left Algeria’s training camp ahead of the international break to put pen to paper with the Foxes, and it was fitting that his final game for Sporting, where he netted 27 goals last season, was in a 2-1 victory over FC Porto, the very same opponents Leicester will face in their maiden Champions League campaign. The forward dubbed the “dragonslayer” for his consistently strong performances against Porto will be relishing that fixture in particular as he settles into life as a Leicester player, but what can the talented 28-year-old bring to the Premier League?
Given Slimani’s rise to prominence from the bottom of football’s echelons, there are immediately parallels to one of Leicester’s own talents – England international Jamie Vardy – who rose from the depths of non-league football with Stocksbridge Park Steels to the dizzy heights of the Championship and Premier League title with the Foxes via spells with Halifax and Fleetwood.
Slimani will of course be linking up with compatriot Riyad Mahrez at the King Power Stadium, and whilst Mahrez himself was beginning to make a name for himself in Ligue 2 with Le Havre, Slimani was plying his trade with CR Belouzidad in Algeria’s fourth tier. His big break came with his transfer to Sporting at the age of 25, before the 2012/13 season, the very same summer that Vardy himself joined Leicester and became the first £1 million non-league player.
Originally signed as a back-up player to Colombian forward Fredy Montero, Slimani has proven a big hit at the Estadio Jose Alvalade and a cult hero amongst Sporting supporters. It took him time to adjust, with the Lisbon club ready to sell him for £200,000 to Ligue 1 club Nantes by the end of his first 12 months in Portugal, but they will be relieved they opted to hang onto him given his remarkable progress since.
Thrown on as a substitute away at city rivals Benfica in November 2013 with Sporting a goal down, the Algerian netted a stoppage time equalising goal to stun the Estadio da Luz, before going on to feature with Algeria at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, plundering two goals.
He is not a technically gifted striker, and has been described as a player who comes with “technical and tactical defects” by Sporting coach Jorge Jesus, but like Vardy he offers an exceptional work rate and a keen eye and instinct for goal.
His direct style of play is also typically Leicester and typically Vardy, always looking to pressurise opposition defences to win the ball and is always looking to head towards goal. Displacing Vardy may prove a challenge, but a like-minded player to the England international may do well in pushing Shinji Okazaki for a starting spot, though compared to Vardy and the Japanese, he does need closer man to man management.
He was reprimanded by Jorge Jesus at Sporting after a negative reaction to being substituted in a Liga Nos fixture against Arouca, but after a meeting with his coach, he repaid the faith by scoring six goals in his following five Sporting appearances.
His attitude, anticipation, great timing of runs as well as his aerial ability and killer instinct in front of goal would render him a real threat going forward for the Premier League champions, and although the Premier League is a step-up from the Portuguese top flight where he has proven so prolific, he is a proven big game player, having netted against all of Portugal’s other top four sides last season. He has also come up trumps at the World Cup, having given Per Mertesacker and the Germany defence a torrid time in Manaus during their Round of 16 knockout tie.
His physical game would render him a good fit for the climate of the Premier League, where forwards must relish physical battles with opposition defenders, and his positional sense, footballing brain and awareness would mean he could thrive from the defence-splitting balls forward from Danny Drinkwater, from which Vardy has so often profited, as well as he service from the flanks via Ahmed Musa, Mark Albrighton and international team-mate Riyad Mahrez.
He will probably have been planning just that with his compatriot at Algeria’s training camp over the international break, and Foxes fans will be hoping that they can have a chemistry on the pitch for the East Midlands club. Slimani undoubtedly has all the qualities a forward requires to succeed in the Premier League, as well as a proven track record in Portugal.
Now, it is up to him to show that he can bring that over to England and if he is able to, expect him to prove a big hit for the Foxes and become another household name in the Premier League.
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