Leicester City supporters have been in high spirits in recent times after seeing their team pick up a ninth Premier League victory of the season on New Year’s Day.
Claude Puel’s men went into their meeting with stuttering Everton at Goodison Park off the back of a shock 1-0 defeat at the hands of Cardiff City over the weekend, and thus seeking to bounce back with victory when they made the trip to Merseyside on Tuesday. And they did just that as a Jamie Vardy strike 13 minutes into the second half sealed a narrow 1-0 success for the Foxes, in turn moving them up to seventh place in the Premier League table.
Thus, there have been many delighted Leicester fans up and down the country in recent times, several of whom are hoping for even more from their side as the season wears on after the shrewd business they completed during the summer transfer window.
In fact, the Foxes were lauded for some of the signings they made during the close season in a bid to reach the next level, yet one deal that may have gone under the radar back in the summer of 2015 was likely to be that of Shinji Okazaki’s arrival for £9.9 million (as per Transfermarkt) from German side Mainz.
And while the 32-year-old hasn’t exactly gone on to be the most prolific of strikers in his four-and-a-half year stint at the King Power Stadium, there is no doubt that he has offered a huge amount to Leicester on the field over the years to become a stalwart at the club, and one that current boss Puel has former manager Claudio Ranieri to thank for equipping him with.
Ultimately, former Chelsea chief Ranieri took over the Foxes ahead of the 2015/16 campaign in a bid to take the Midlanders forward following their near-miss with relegation the season before, with Japan international Okazaki one of his first signings as he sought to do just that.
And what an inspired decision that has proven to be as, although Okazaki isn’t renowned for his goal-scoring exploits with just 19 goals in 128 appearances for the club, what he offers in that advanced striker’s role simply cannot be underestimated.
The 32-year-old appeared in all but two of their 38 Premier League games in the 2015/16 season to help Ranieri’s side win the title, netting five times along the way, and while the campaign after was a struggle for the Foxes, Okazaki still gave absolutely everything in his 30 league appearances for the club.
And while his game time has somewhat reduced following the appointment of Puel back in October 2017, he still remains a valuable member of the squad with 13 appearances in the Premier League this term and 27 last time round, with last season his best goal-scoring return with six goals for the Foxes.
Significantly, it is what Okazaki offers up top which has made him a fan favourite and thus a stalwart at the Midlands club, with the 32-year-old extremely tenacious off the ball in chasing down lost causes and putting pressure on opposition defenders, while he also has quality on it in holding the ball up and bringing others into play, at the same time posing an aerial threat.
Overall, Okazaki isn’t going to be the answer to Leicester’s striking woes post-Vardy, but there is little doubting that he has paid back that £9.9 million they spent on him back in 2015 – after all, he has appeared well over 100 times, and has a Premier League winner’s medal to show for his time at the club.
And with Puel still utilising the Japanese star’s strengths even now, it’s clear that the Frenchman has former Foxes boss Ranieri to thank for equipping him with a Leicester stalwart.
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