The 'Afcon Rise of' Series is a collaborative initiative between Goal and 3 Kilo featuring up-and-coming writers. 3 Kilo is a development agency that creates opportunities and skills development projects for the youth of South Africa.
Wilfred Ndidi is growing to become a household name in the English Premier League and he remains a standout star for Nigeria with his fine defensive displays in the middle of the park.
Stemming from his impressive outings with Leicester City in the Premier League during the 2018-19 season, the best tackler in the English top-flight is one of the key players in Gernot Rohr's team that will be competing for glory at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) in Egypt.
He is among the fast-rising players in the English top-flight and the hype is expected to continue on June 22 when Nigeria commence their campaign at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) with a fixture against Burundi.
Wilfred Ndidi's early life
Born in 1996 to a military father, Ndidi grew up around the barracks in Lagos. As a child, he was keen on football but was not encouraged by his father who wanted him to focus on his academics.
He played for Nathaniel Boys Academy at developmental level and he was spotted during a friendly game against the now-relegated Nigeria Professional Football League side 3SC after providing an assist for the equalising goal.
The 22-year-old recalled his experience during an exclusive interview with Goal.
"It was important because we were an academy, we played a team from the Nigerian Premier League [and we were only an academy], 3SC Shooting Stars were winning 1-0. I gave that pass and made it 1-1,” he said.
“I was the only one selected out of 40 teams, 500 players. I had to go and do trials in Genk after that. Then I did the trials in Genk, after a year, they gave me a contract.”
Wilfred Ndidi in Europe
Following his successful trial with Genk, Ndidi was handed his first professional contract by the Belgian First Division A outfit in 2015. He overcame his initial struggles as a defender after he was reverted to his role as a defensive midfielder.
This change secured regular playing time for him with the Blue-White as he racked up 61 appearances with four goals to his credit during his brief stint at the club.
In January 2017, Genk accepted a £17million offer from Leicester City for the services of Ndidi in an attempt to fill the void created by Ngolo Kante after his move to Chelsea.
The 22-year-old grew into life at the King Power Stadium and has established himself as a force to reckon with in the Foxes' midfield.
His ball-winning skills made him the top tackler in the league for the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons.
Ndidi's individual performances earned him Leicester City’s Young Player of the Year award for two consecutive seasons and an improved contract that ties him to Brendan Rodgers’ team until 2024.
Despite his defensive contributions, Ndidi also supports the Foxes' attack and he has scored five goals across all competitions
Ndidi's international career
Ndidi has represented Nigeria at U17 and U20 levels. He made his Super Eagles debut at the age of 18, back in October 2015.
Afterwards, he cemented his place in the national team frame with his marshalling displays in the middle of the park.
Ndidi played a crucial role in Nigeria's qualification for the 2018 Fifa World Cup and played every minute of their games in Russia.
Ndidi is among the 23 players selected by coach Gernor Rohr for Nigeria’s 18th appearance at the Afcon in Egypt.
Having been drawn in Group B against Guinea, Madagascar and Burundi, the 22-year-old will be looking to make a difference with his proven combative style of play for the Super Eagles as they aim for a fourth Afcon title.