A quiz question. What do the following players – Rachid Ghezzal, Fousseni Diabate, Cengiz Under, and Tete – have in common? The more discerning Leicester City fans will know that they were all bought to fill the gaping hole on the right side of Leicester’s forward line left by the departure of Riyad Mahrez to Manchester City in July 2018.
Mahrez was always going to be a hard act to follow. In 179 appearances for Leicester, the Algerian scored 48 goals – including 17 league goals in the title winning season – and made countless assists. His ability to cut in from the right on his favoured left foot was a delight to behold for almost four seasons at the King Power. He won the PFA Player of the Year award at the end of the 2015-16 season and was also nominated for the prestigious Ballon d’Or in October that year finishing seventh behind such luminaries as Gareth Bale, Neymar, Luis Suarez, Antoine Griezmann, Lionel Messi and the eventual winner Cristiano Ronaldo. Incidentally, Jamie Vardy finished one place behind Mahrez in eighth.
Ultimately, none of Mahrez’s purported successors have made the grade and the position has become something of a problem for the King Power outfit. The last candidate, Tete, signed on loan from Ukrainian club Shakhtar Donetsk halfway through the 2022-23 season, started off well (in his first game – a 2-4 victory over Aston Villa – at least) but his performances quickly deteriorated and he wasn’t a regular starter by the end of the doomed season.
Which brings me to the current season. Wingers are vitally important for the way Enzo Maresca’s teams play. The central striker is encouraged to come short for the ball with the aim of putting in either a midfield runner or one of the wide men. To that end, the Italian boss has used Mavididi on the left and either one of the academy prospects – Wanya Marcal Madivadua or Kasey McAteer – on the right.
Such is the importance of wingers to Maresca, however, that he entered the transfer market to bring in two additional wide players on loan, Yunus Akgun from Galatasaray, and the 19-year-old Sporting Lisbon winger Abdul Fatawu Issahaku. Both players were given a chance in the King Power clash against Hull City. In the first half, Akgun, the more experienced of the two, found it difficult to make an impact and he was replaced by Fatawu after 54 minutes.
And what an entrance it was. The Ghanaian, who in his young career has already played in the Champions League and the World Cup, was a revelation constantly getting behind the Hull full back and putting in teasing crosses or cutting inside, in Mahrez style, to open up shooting opportunities on one occasion hitting the post with the ‘keeper helpless. You could see it wasn’t entirely to plan. Maresca seems to prefer a slow deliberate build up and the pained expressions on the faces of Fatawu’s teammates as, once or twice, he went for a Hollywood moment rather than passing the ball square was all too obvious.
Although Leicester suffered their first defeat of the season against the club from Humberside, Fatawu’s brief cameo was a breath of fresh air. Of course, it is difficult to say if the Foxes have found, at last, a fitting replacement for the Algerian wizard. Is he really ‘one of the best young wingers in the world’ as has been claimed? We can often learn little from the early games of young players. Anyone old enough to have witnessed the debut of a certain Gary Lineker on the right wing – a Division Two game against Oldham Athletic on a cold New Year’s day at Filbert Street in 1979 – would have been ridiculed for predicting he would become a Leicester legend and a footballing superstar.
Nevertheless, Maresca must give Fatawu his wings in future games and I, for one, hope he takes off. The team needs his raw talent and willingness to take a chance.