It’s probably a toss up between Islam Slimani and Adrien Silva for who wishes they hadn’t joined Leicester the most (we’ll pretend that Bartosz Kapustka never made those ridiculous misplaced comments). Slimani joined hot after our title success for a record fee (now broken by Youri Tielemans), bringing its own expectations and not leaving him much time before patience ran out.
Looking back on it, the signing still feels odd; we’d never really played to accommodate a tall man in the middle given the team was, still is, built with Jamie Vardy front and centre. It seemed like something we needed, but something that never worked out.
As another transfer window closed, Slimani remains a Leicester player. Despite the interests of several clubs, allegedly including West Brom and Tottenham. The Algerian was spotted at the training ground for what feels like the first time in an age and was named in the Premier League 25-man squad. Though apparently not in the Europa League squad.
After two seasons out on loan, the Foxes seemed so keen to get rid of Slimani that it’s pretty clear he wasn’t originally going to be part of Brendan Rodgers’ plans. Given that we couldn’t sell him, and we also didn’t bolster our frontline, maybe his luck is about to change. It would seem naive to just leave him playing in the Under-23s.
Should Rodgers bring him back in from the cold as his inclusion in the squad suggests, it could be mutually beneficial. Like him or not, Slimani offers something that Jamie Vardy and Kelechi Iheanacho do not. Strength in the air and height. Admittedly time is not necessarily on his side, at thirty-two he doesn’t fit the mould of players we’re usually looking to.
Slimani isn’t likely to get many starts in the Premier League but could prove useful from the bench. Squad depth is a recognised issue for the Foxes and having a plan B for if or when we don’t have Jamie Vardy is required. Slimani provides that option. When Rodgers has seemed hesitant to use Iheanacho as often as we’d expect, perhaps this is the short term solution.
An area of Slimani’s game that goes unappreciated is his first touch. It’s clear that he’s very capable of holding up the ball but that impressive Algerian ball control is also prominent. He also brings a flash of aggression that I’d argue we lack with the exception of Çağlar Söyüncü. Some would argue he’s got a bad attitude, or didn’t work hard enough, but there’s not a huge amount of evidence to back that up. It feels more that he fell victim to the manager who signed him having been sacked and pressure mounting.
Has Slimani been given a fair chance for Leicester? Probably not and I was pretty resigned to that being that. Not quite Kramaric 2.0 but equally a wasted potential. Yes, a player can expect to require a little adapting to a team’s style and formation but it would have been great to play to Slimani’s strengths more rather than just write him off and loan him out. Being a record signing and niggling injuries hampered his first few months in Leicester blue too.
When he did play, and we delivered the right balls, his headers were lethal. Watching back the eleven goals he netted for us, there’s some impressive bits of play in there. His goal against Liverpool in the Carabao cup is probably the pick of the bunch, showing he has a mean strike in his arsenal too. Frustratingly there are glimpses of an emerging partnership between Slimani and Vardy too, something that was never properly explored. See Slimani’s Premier League debut and goal against Burnley.
A match that stood out where we did play his preferred style was against West Ham in the 2016/17 season. His goal provided a 1-0 win and it showcased what the Algerian is capable of, heading home a perfectly crossed ball from Marc Albrighton. It also marked a rare occasion where we played Albrighton and Slimani together. The dream combination! As opposed to multiple occasions where we’d bring Slimani on needing a goal, good call, but substitute Albrighton for him. Because why wouldn’t you take off the ideal man to cross into the box and to Slimani’s head?
The Foxes look short on strikers should Vardy or Iheanacho get injured or suspended, particularly taking into account the fixture list. This is Slimani’s second and arguably last chance to succeed at Leicester. You’d tip him as well if given the chance.
With the players we have on either side of the pitch and the general crossing ability of most of our squad, a player of Slimani’s strengths looks more suited to this version of Leicester City than the one that first signed him.