A move for the Zambian showcases the Foxes’ smart recruitment, but the decision will leave their Nigerian hitman feeling conflicted
Much as the transfer window offers few guarantees, there is something to be said for a clear recruitment plan and how that exponentially increases the likelihood of successful outcomes.
After a promising season ended in disappointment at the last, Leicester City might have been forgiven for taking some time to lick their wounds.
After all, 2020/21 was the second season in a row in which they had lost out on a place in the Champions League on the final day, and that near-miss threatened to completely cloud the achievement of silverware in the form of the FA Cup.
This is, however, a club that has gradual progress down to a fine art.
This approach makes setbacks easier to parse and digest, and there is a sense already that the Foxes are primed to resume the hunt. Reports of a deal for RB Salzburg striker Patson Daka continue a theme of sensible recruitment, with an eye both on the present and toward the future.
A move for the Zambia international handily addresses a key need, as identified by manager Brendan Rodgers in the aftermath of the 4-2 reverse against Tottenham that snatched a Champions League place out of the club’s hands.
As far as providing ‘a goal threat’ goes, 22-year-old Daka has long been considered one of the deadliest finishers in Europe, and the time is right for him to finally take that next step.
Daka is quick, loves to run in behind opposing defences, gets into prime goalscoring positions and is adept at finishing with as few touches as possible.
If that calls to mind a certain 34-year-old former England striker, the similarity is not coincidental: it is clear the club are activating the ‘Jamie Vardy Succession Plan’ protocol.
While Vardy’s status as a Leicester City legend is set in stone already, he is clearly getting on.
He has done tremendously to retain his explosive burst this late in his career, and he pitched in with 15 goals and nine assists for the Foxes this past season. However, over the last four months of the season, much of the goalscoring burden at the club rested squarely on the shoulders of strike partner Kelechi Iheanacho; clearly, port and Red Bull do not make up the elixir of youth.
Of course, Vardy is not quite ready for the compost heap just yet.
He can still go, even if not quite with the same vigour. That makes the timing of this move perfect: coming in from the Austrian Bundesliga, it would be too much to expect Daka to take up the reins and lead a Champions League charge right away. A bedding-in period is required, not only to get him acclimated to Premier League football, but also to protect an important asset.
For his part, Daka will also not push to immediately start every match, unlike other potential targets of a bigger profile. It is a deal that works for every party involved.
Well, almost every party.
Iheanacho will perhaps feel conflicted at the news, even if only for the symbolism of it.
For so long, it was the Nigeria international anointed as Vardy’s heir; indeed, it was the implied promise that kept him patient at Leicester through the lean times when playing time was hard to come by.
Having seized the opportunity afforded him by injuries to Harvey Barnes and James Maddison to demonstrate his ability to score goals at Premier League level, there will no doubt be some surprise at the club going all in on such a blatant Vardy prototype.
With 11 of his 12 league goals coming in the final 12 matches of the season, there was a sense of Iheanacho stepping up, ready to assume the lead role in the Leicester attack as Vardy’s utility waned.
Instead, it appears Daka is now earmarked as the club’s flagbearer going forward, and that has to rankle a little bit. Of course, Iheanacho has thrived playing off a main striker, popping up in space created by Vardy’s runs to finish impressively, so there is no reason (in theory) he cannot forge a similarly symbiotic relationship with the Zambian.
Daka himself has tended to play with a strike partner in Salzburg’s 4-2-2-2, allowing him to focus his energies on maximizing shot locations.
However, playing a duo upfront has generally limited Rodgers to a back three system, and arguably alienates Harvey Barnes.
It is also unclear that it is a system the former Liverpool and Celtic boss would want to use permanently. If he does revert to a back four, Iheanacho could find himself the third wheel.
While Daka for now lacks some of the link-up and ball-carrying that makes him workable as a lone forward, that bedding-in period and his relative youth would afford him the latitude and time to round out and present a more complete profile when the keys are handed over to him permanently.
When the time comes to commit to a lone centre-forward to lead the line, it is he who will be expected to do so, not Iheanacho.
Having waited so long to be the main man, and finally looking like it during the latter stages of last season, it is clear now that this Leicester side will never quite be made in his image.