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Wilfred NDIDI’s foster parents speak on the Nigerian star

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…My wife was in tears when Ndidi moved to Leicester — Foster dad

Leicester City midfielder Wilfred Ndidi is one of the former English champions’ shiny stars after a dream £17m move to the English Premier League from Belgian side KRC Genk in January.

The Nigerian international caught the eye after two outstanding seasons in Belgium’s Jupiler Liga, where his wonder strike against Club Brugge was adjudged the Goal of the Season as well as coming second in the Young Player of the Year last season.

Also, a great outing for Genk in the Europa League group stages, where Ndidi made more tackles and interceptions than any other player, convinced the then Premier League champions about the youngster’s abilities in their pursuit for a successor to Frenchman N’Golo Kanté, who had left for Chelsea. And they moved swiftly to tie up a deal for him, churning out £17m, what Genk wanted, for a player they signed for £78,000 from Lagos side Nath Boys two years ago.

The 20-year-old made his debut for the Foxes on January 7, in a 2–1 win against Everton in an FA Cup third round tie but a week later, he was on the losing side on his first EPL game as the former champions, who were managed then by Claudio Ranieri, got trounced 3-0 by eventual champions Chelsea at the King Power Stadium.

However, the Nigerian international quickly settled down to business and emerged one of the spectacular players on offer in the EPL this season.

Ndidi, though more saddled with winning balls and setting up his team’s play also scored twice, to also show his knack for goals when the occasion demanded and both strikes were amazing.

First his superb shot from 25 yards inside five minutes of extra time, after being on the pitch for just four minutes, gave Leicester a 2-1 lead against a stubborn Derby County side before Demarai Gray put the game beyond the Championship side late on in an FA Cup game on February 8.

However, Ndidi’s second goal against Stoke in the Premier League, another long range effort from 30 yards, was even more sublime. Danny Drinkwater teed up the Nigerian, who charged forward before  rifling home an explosive 30-yard shot into the top-right corner past goalkeeper Lee Grant for his side’s first goal in a 2-0 win.

After a campaign that went awry mid-season culminating in the sack of history-making Ranieri, with his assistant Craig Shakespeare put in his place, Leicester ended the season in mid-table.

But once again Ndidi was one of the highlights of The Foxes’ topsy-turvy season, and ended being voted Leicester City’s Young Player of the Year despite just being at the club for five months. His goal against Stoke was also nominated for the Goal of the Season. Drinkwater’s strike against Liverpool won the award.

The son of a soldier, Ndidi was born in Lagos on December 16, 1996 but the youngster’s quick adaptation to European life and football was largely aided by a Belgian couple, Theo van Vlierden and his wife, Marleen, who adopted the emerging star on his arrival at Genk in 2015.

African players struggle to adapt to the weather, food, culture, language and several other barriers on their arrival in Europe but Ndidi, the footballer with humble beginnings, found love in Belgium the moment he met the Van Vlierdens.

The couple tells ’TANA AIYEJINA about their first encounter with Ndidi and how they have lived as one happy family ever after…

How and when did you get to know Wilfred?

Theo: That was the beginning of January 2014 when Wilfred arrived in Belgium for his two-month test period with KRC Genk. At that moment he was still a young guy, just 17 years old.  The first three or four days he arrived, he was staying in a hotel. But there was a lack of hospitality space and KRC Genk called us with the request if we wanted to take Wilfred in our home for a few weeks. My wife and I looked at each other, we didn’t say anything and we nodded our heads, which meant yes.

What was your first impression of him and what attracted your family to him?

Marleen: I think our first impression of Wilfred was one of a shy and timid boy. We immediately thought it must be very cold in his summer clothes, it was winter and very cold. His shy smile and pearly white teeth did the rest and we agree.

How challenging was it for him adapting to life in Europe?

Theo: Of course it’s a big challenge for every boy of that age to adapt in a foreign country. But I must say that he has adapted quickly to life here and even in England. When he first got to Belgium, he felt quite at home after just a few weeks. We also told him several times what he should do when he was at home and he was a part of our family.

They say Wilfred is such a charming personality, do you agree?

Marleen: Yes, we fully agree. Wilfred is a charming personality. Always good humoured, friendly and polite. Not only in our home, also towards other people. He is loved by KRC Genk staff, his teammates and the fans.

When he made the move to England, how did the family feel? Theo: After more than two years living together, this certainly creates a special bond. Of course we have and will always miss him. He has become a part of the family. He is our son and will always stay our son. His move to England left Marleen with some tears. For me, it was also very emotional. We hear from him almost on a daily basis via WhatsApp and social media. In the past few months, we visited him with our son Christophe, several times. The first time was in January for the game between Leicester City and Chelsea.  The second time was a few weeks after then. Together with our son, we transported in a Ford Transit van, we took his clothes and other things via the Channel Tunnel to Leicester in the UK. In March and April we also visited him again and we watched a few games of Leicester.

With his amazing talents and personality, how far do you think Wilfred can get as a footballer?

Theo: We strongly believe Wilfred will go very far as a football player. If his attitude keeps focused on football, he will make progress. For sure, I do not believe that this is his final station.

Ndidi scored his first goal in England, a superb 25-yard effort in the FA Cup. How did the family celebrate the goal?

Marleen: We were very happy. At the same time that evening my husband and son were at the Belgian Golden Shoe Gala evening. Wilfred was awarded with the Most Beautiful Goal of the Year 2016 in Belgium and he was also one of the three nominees for the Promising Young Player of the Year. He scored a magnificent goal against Club Brugge, which you would have also seen, I suppose.

Quite a lot of people feel it would be difficult for him to fill N’Golo Kante’s large boots. Were you skeptical initially?

Theo: No I was not at all. You cannot compare both players. Kante is Kante and Ndidi is Ndidi. Let’s face the future, Kante has large boots but Ndidi has long and extendable legs that are everywhere to recover the ball. He has a very large running ability and huge endurance.

When he first arrived in Belgium, how did he cope with the food, weather, culture etc?

Marleen: Of course it took some time.  But in general everything was going very well. I cooked a lot of food with rice, noodles and chicken. He also likes to eat egg omelette with ham, tomatoes and onions. He also finds delicious oven casserole, meatloaf with mashed potatoes and leeks. Sometimes a Nigerian teammate brought him Nigerian food from the city of Antwerp. The weather was something else. I hear in Nigeria it’s always warm between 28 degrees in winter till 36 degrees and more in summer. That is a lot of difference with the temperature here. For example he never saw snow (before he arrived in Belgium).

How much do you know about his Nigerian roots?

Theo: We know something about his roots. We saw some pictures of his mother, father and two younger sisters. Of course we know something of the Nigerian society and we see also the news on TV.

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