Two months on from his exciting deadline day arrival at St James’ Park and Islam Slimani has played just 15 minutes in black and white.
He looked decent when he came on against Huddersfield and could yet make a big impact in the final 6 games he’ll be able to play, Rafa has challenged him to turn it around, however it’s fair to say that time is running out for him to impress after so long on the sidelines.
Here’s our little Q and A with Jamie, asking the Leicester City expert what he made of the whole Slimani situation. There’s some very interesting insights here..
Q – When he arrived on deadline day I (like so many NUFC fans) was delighted. We needed a proper striker and being given a £30m on until the end of the season surpassed my low deadline day expectations. This helped me get over the fact he arrived with a ‘minor’ thigh injury, however if someone had told me he’d make his debut a whole 2 months later I’d be concerned to put it mildly. Some have called him a sick note and have been furious that he’s been injured for so long (playing for Algeria before he did for us). Is this a case of bad luck or have injuries always been an issue for him?
A – “You are not the only set of fans to be frustrated with Slimani’s injury record. Since we signed him at the start of the 15/16 season he has had three significant injuries which have kept him out for 71 days, and missed 14 games – and these are only the ones he was unavailable for selection, let alone those when he was trying to build match fitness and confidence! This injury record combined with his absence at the African Cup of Nations in 2017, is quite clearly a major contributor to why a £30m+ player can’t get into our side and was deemed surplus to requirements at Leicester. He is competing against Jamie Vardy for the lone striker role and most players would need to be firing on all cylinders to do that, and Slimani hasn’t been near the level required.”
“Give him time to prove himself, he was written off early by a lot of LCFC fans, (understandable due to the fee paid) and this was pretty detrimental to his performances. If you do start to slip towards the relegation places again you need players willing to work hard to get a result – and he is certainly that man.”
Q – He finally made his debut last Saturday vs Huddersfield and I was impressed. He looked sharper than I expected (hadn’t played competitively since your cup game vs Fleetwood in January). He always wanted the ball, both to feet and in behind, showed real desire to get in the box and on the end of crosses, put himself about and looked more mobile than I expected for a big 6ft 3′ bloke nearing 30. He was quietly impressive during the 15 minute cameo, something that’s probably helped ease some fans fears that he’d be a total flop. He can’t play against this weekend for obvious reasons, but how do you think he’d do if he was given a run in the NUFC side between now & the end of the season?
A – “I have no doubt that Slimani has the ability to thrive at St James Park. The Newcastle fans have a terrific reputation for supporting players as long as they give 110% and Slimani will always do that. He works very hard on and off the ball and as you say is more mobile than his frame would suggest. I would be particularly interested to see him playing with Matt Ritchie and Kenedy. Ritchie’s crossing ability is top notch and the Brazilian’s set pieces should play right into Slimani’s hands. However, he is definitely a confidence player and needs consistent minutes in order to hit form – in my opinion he doesn’t suit a “bit part” role, but if Benitez gives him starts then he will continue to improve.”
Q – We’ll be on the look out for a proven striker this summer and I presume Slimani will be looking for a permanent move away from Leicester. Rafa has challenged him to impress in the final few weeks of the season, refusing to rule out a potential permanent move for him should he show us what he can do. Do you think you’ll sell him and what sort of fee may you demand? I know you paid £29m for him not so long ago, but I can’t see us paying anywhere near that given he turns 30 this summer and has spent the majority of time injured at NUFC..
A – “I have been willing Slimani to be a success at Leicester since he joined but it’s starting to look like his days at the King Power may well be numbered. With the strikers we have he is currently 4th in the queue behind Vardy, Iheanacho and Okazaki and his game time is likely to suffer as a result so in the interest of both the player and our wage bill I would accept it if he were to leave. However, our playing style is changing and he may well suit the more possession orientated system that we are working towards so it is by no means guaranteed that Puel will want to sell him. Assuming we sold I would imagine the Leicester hierarchy would want to recoup as much of their investment as possible but a bid north of £20m would be very seriously considered, perhaps even less, this transfer market is impossible to predict!”
Some really interesting stuff here. He clearly feels Slimani has what it takes to be the striker we’ve sorely lacked for several years now (and I particularly liked the bit about him giving 110% and being suited to Kenedy/Ritchie’s deliveries), however I just worry he’s not going to have the time to prove it.
Also, do you really see us paying around £20m for a man who turns 30 in June? I can’t under Ashley – especially when he’s going to have a maximum of just six games to prove his worth.