Leicester City’s fairy tale run in the Premier League has been largely down to the incredible rise of several players who were virtually unknown before the team’s shock challenge for the Premier League title this term.
Most of their top players who have sustained this challenge, the likes of N’golo Kante, Riyad Mahrez and James Vardy, were considered journeymen just few years ago but they, along with some other players, have proved to everyone that you can go from grass to grace.
In this piece, Completesportsnigeria.com’s JAMES AGBEREBI, takes a look at SEVEN players who have proven that clubs don’t need
to break the bank to land a gem…
Known for his pace, tenacity and crunchy tackles and work-horse like style, N’golo Kante, a youth product of US Boulogne in France, is one player who has taken the English Premier League by storm considering his humble beginning.
For a player who did not make his professional debute until he was 21, in May 2012 for Boulogne in Ligue 2, 24-year-old Kante’s journey has been a remarkable one.
Bought for just £5.6 million by EPL leaders Leicester City from Caen in France, Kante has earned much praise and many plaudits for his consistently impressive displays for Leicester City,
Widely considered to be a main factor in Leicester’s excellent form in the 2015–16 season, the diminutive midfielder, has played every single league game for Leicester City this season, scoring one goal against Watford in a 2–1 win at the King Power Stadium on 7 November 2015.
With 12 games remaining in the season, Kante has a huge part to play, if Leicester City hope to do the impossible, which is win the EPL title for the very first time in their history.
And it will be a surprise if Kante doesn’t make the French team for the Euros.
The name Jamie Vardy, is one which will always come to mind whenever the 2015/2016 English Premier League season is mentioned.
Vardy’s emergence as a prolific goal poacher in the elite division has proven that sometimes you don’t need to look far before identifying a gem because he might be right under your nose.
Before turning professional, Vardy combined playing non-League football with a job as technician making medical splints. He even had run-ins with the law. In 2007, he received a conviction for assault following an incident outside a pub, and had to play with an electronic tag fitted for six months, while his curfew also limited his playing time at Stocksbridge Park Steels.
After spells with the likes of Fleetwood Town, Sheffield Wednesday, F.C. Halifax Town, he eventually signed for Leicester City in May 2012 in the Championship for £1 million.
And he has gone on to achieve great things with the Foxes this term, topping the scorers chart so far with 19 goals in 26 league appearances.
He has also gone on to score in a record eleven consecutive EPL matches in 2015, breaking Ruud van Nistelrooy’s record, and also making his international debut earlier in the same year.
Vardy, who was earning close to minimum wage a few years ago, recently signed a new contract reportedly worth £70,000 a week and drives a shiny Bentley. He should be in Roy Hodgson’s squad to the European Championship coming up in France this year.
OLE GUNNER SOLSKJAER
Nicknamed the “Baby-faced Assassin” because of his youthful looks and his deadly finishing, Ole Gunnar Solskjær was something of a surprise acquisition for Manchester United, as he was almost unknown outside his homeland.
As the only striker to arrive at Old Trafford in 1996 from Molde, it was widely expected that his first season would be spent as back-up to Eric Cantona and Andy Cole with only occasional first team opportunities.
But within weeks of his arrival it was clear that he would be a key part of the first team sooner than had been anticipated, and would also prove himself to be one of the biggest Premier League bargains of the season.
Solskjær is best remembered as a “super-sub”, having earned wide acclaim for a habit of coming into matches late on as a substitute and scoring goals.
His finest moment came in the final of the 1999 UEFA Champions League final against Bayern Munich which United won 2-1.
Coming on as a substitute, he scored the winning goal, helping the team secure the Treble and cementing his own place in the United folklore.
Little known Kolo Touré joined Arsenal from ASEC Mimosas on a long-term contract for a fee of £150,000 on 14 February 2002 after a short trial.
Toure had his work cut out as he had the likes of Sol Campbell, Pascal Cygan and Martin Keown to contend with in Arsenal’s defence.
He finally got his breakthrough when he, alongside Campbell, formed a formidable partnership in the 2003/2004 season and had a great season during which Arsenal were undefeated in the league, claiming the title.
The following season, he won the FA Cup and scored the only goal in Arsenal’s 1-0 aggregate win against Villareal, in the semi-final of the 2006 UEFA Champions League.
He later moved to Manchester City in 2009 and made 14 league appearances as they won the EPL title in 2012, the first time in 44 years.
Toure now plies his trade with Liverpool whom he joined in 2013.
Riyad Mahrez did not announce his emergence into English football until the on-going 2015/2016 season.
But with his performances so far with the Foxes this campaign, the Algerian international should be among the nominees for Player of the Season.
Mahrez, who lost his insirational father at 15, moved to Leicester City from French side Le Havre in January 2014, signing a three-and-a-half-year contract. His friends and family were initially sceptical of a move to English football due to its physical nature, believing that his style of play would be more suited to Spain.
But he proved them wrong as he helped Leicester win the Championship and also a return to the Premier League for the first time in 10 years.
Mahrez was playing for amateur French side Quimper only six years ago and Ligue 2 side Le Havre just three years ago, but now, he has scored 14 Premier League goals in 25 appearances this season. Also, he is Leicester’s assist master with 10, second behind Arsenal’s Mezut Ozil.
And together with the likes of N’golo Kante, Danny Drinkwater and of course Jamie Vardy, Leicester City are on the verge of creating history, as they continue to occupy the summit of the Premier League with 12 games remaining.
JAVIER ‘Chicharito’ HERNANDEZ
Chicharito, as he is fondly called, Javier Hernandez arrived quietly, virtually unknown to Manchester United but he proved a bargain.
Chicharito joined the Red Devils from Chivas Guadalajara in 2010 for an undisclosed fee. Prior to his move to England, he began playing with Chivas’ lower division team, Chivas Coras in the 2005–06 season before making his debut for the main team in the 2006 Apertura. He scored 24 goals in 64 appearances in the four years he spent with Chivas.
In his first season with United, Chicharito won the Premier League title and also the Capital One Cup. That same season, he featured in the UEFA Champions League final against Barcelona which United lost.
He helped United retained the EPL title in 2013, contributing his own fair share of goals as they wrested the title away from Manchester City.
On 1 September 2014, Hernández signed for Real Madrid on a season-long loan deal, with an option of a purchase at the end of the loan.
And on 31 August 2015, it was announced Hernández signed a three-year contract with Bundesliga club Bayer Leverkusen for a fee reportedly in the region of £7.3 million.
He has scored 13 Bundesliga goals this season and was named for the third time Bundesliga Player of the Month for January.
Born and raised in Milton Keynes, Dele Alli joined the youth system at Milton Keynes Dons when he was 11 years old.
He made his debut for the first team as a sixteen-year-old in 2012, coming on as a 64th-minute substitute for Jay O’Shea in a 0–0 draw with Southern Football League club Cambridge City in the FA Cup first round at Bridge Road.
His first goal came in the replay against Cambridge eleven days later, where he scored in a 6-1 win at Stadium mk on his first start.
He made his league debut in the defeat to Coventry City at home on 29 December, where he played 71 minutes before being replaced. And in 62 appearances for MK Dons, Alli found the back of the net 18 times.
Alli’s outstanding displays saw English Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur snap him up on 2 February 2015 in the last hours of the mid-season transfer window on a five-and-a-half-year deal for an initial fee of £5 million, staying on loan at
MK Dons for the remainder of the season.
And since making his debut for Spurs against Manchester United this season, Alli has been one of the break-through players.
His consistent displays have now seen Spurs occupy the second spot in the EPL table.
He has so far scored seven EPL goals and his goal against Crystal Palace, will surely contend for Goal of the Season.
His fine form saw him earn his Three Lions debut on 17 November 2015, in a 2-0 win against France at Wembley. He marked a
memorable debut with a long range shot to beat Spurs team-mate, Hugo Lloris.
Alli, the little boy nobody knew three years ago, should be in England’s squad for the European Championship to be staged in France.