If there was ever a dream debut in the Premier League, Islam Slimani’s for Leicester City on Saturday certainly was that.
“Slimani, Slimani” was the exclamation from the King Power crowd post-match. A star is born.
Face it City fans, it has been a poor start to the Foxes’ Premier League season. But after their first European victory since 1961 and a demolition over Burnley, there is a renewed sense of enthusiasm in the East Midlands.
SHOOT takes a look at the Algerian and how he can cope in English football after the greatest of debuts distinctly possible.
Where did it all start for Slimani?
Slimani was born in the vastly populated city of Algiers, the capital of Algeria. From his infant years, he had one passion – football.
Not that he dreamt one day about playing football in some of the greatest leagues. In fact, he only fantasised about playing for one club – WB Ain Benian, a local side who now play amateur football in the capital city of the Northern African country.
Therefore, surely it was written in the stars for him to sign for the club, when he was offered a trial at the age of seven? Unfortunately, for Slimani, it wasn’t. Despite his enthusiasm, he lacked the ability. The trial was unsuccessful, it was a no.
His second trial, however, went a bit more to plan. It was second time lucky for the Algerian, following a poor performance by WB’s winger. Now the dream of representing his local side had become a reality. He was now a WB Ain Benian player.
What happened next?
After rejection at a young age, Slimani became a key figure at his local side. After consistently fantastic performances for the amateur side, maybe the future Algerian international realised that he could go further?
In 2008, he made the move to JSM Cheraga, an outfit that currently play in the second-tier of Algerian football. It was here where he shone. Twenty-one goals in 22 league appearances brought Slimani into the nation’s attention. This kid could play.
By May 2009, it was time to take his football to the next level. He made the move to the top-flight of Algerian football; CR Belouizdad – six-time champions of Algeria – was the destination for Slimani for a reported fee of 800,000 Algerian dinars (around £56,000.) But could he cope at such a level?
Quite simply he could. A frustrating ninth place finish may not be one which Laakiba fans will remember in years to come, but it was a memorable season for the local lad; eight goals in 30 league appearances showed that he could shine at such a level. A slight contrast to playing amateur football for WB Ain Benian.
He continued to improve too. Ten goals in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 campaigns made him a key part of Belouizdad’s team. This was no normal kid – he was the future of Algerian football.
Maybe a move to Europe would make him an African star?
How has he performed in Europe?
August 2013; a new era beckoned for Slimani as he made the move to Sporting CP. A new country. A new league. The same old Slimani, however.
After starting his time in Lisbon as an impact player off the bench, the Algerian got the opportunity in Sporting’s starting XI following the poor form of former Seattle striker Freddy Montero.
If he was going to make his name for the 18-time Portuguese champions, then this was it. And he most certainly made his name. Four goals in as many games during March 2014 showed the world that nothing seems to worry this forward.
Another goal in April gave Sporting hope of their first league triumph since 2002. In the end, however, the Algerian’s goals were not enough; FC Porto beat them to the league by seven points.
A brace against Penafiel on the Saturday after featuring against Chelsea in the Champions League, was the highlight of the following campaign, although there was still no title success for the Lions however as they finished third, some nine points off eventual champions Benfica.
The following season, however, was arguably the greatest of his career. As his future club surged towards their first top division title in the clubs 132-year history, Slimani became the star of Portuguese football. Ten goals in eight appearances made him, arguably, one of the finest strikers in Europe.
Now, can he cope in the Premier League?
Based on his performance on Saturday, you would have to say yes.
What about his international career?
Ever since starring in Algeria’s top division, Slimani has flirted with the Algerian national team.
He made his debut in May 2012, in a 3-0 demolition over Niger. A few days later, he represented his nation again. If dreams came true coming on as a half-time substitute, words could not describe the emotions Slimani felt during the 2014 World Cup qualifier against Rwanda, as he scored Algeria’s third strike in a 4-0 convincing win over the nation of 11 million.
After netting another four times in the green and white shirt of his nation, Slimani was picked for the 2013 African Cup of Nations. It was a fantastic chance; an opportunity to prove himself to the watching world.
That is what he hoped. It didn’t go to plan, however. After defeats to Togo and Tunisia, as well as a draw against the Ivory Coast, the Algerians finished bottom of Group D; one of the potential outsiders for the trophy suffered heartbreak at the first hurdle.
Maybe they could forgive themselves at the World Cup, a year later? They most certainly did. Slimani’s goal in their group stage match over South Korea earned the Northern African country a place in the knockout rounds of this historic tournament for the first time in the nation’s history, following anguish in Spain (1982), Mexico (1986) and South Africa (2010) respectively.
Into the knockout rounds, their Round of 16 tie couldn’t get any harder. Germany were the opposition. If the Algerians were going to earn themselves a place in the quarter-finals, they had to beat the three-time champions.
Unfortunately, they couldn’t do so. Joachim Low’s men saw out a slender 2-1 victory on extra-time, progressing through to the last-eight of a competition they would eventually triumph in themselves.
What can Slimani offer the Foxes?
Let me take you back to the start of the 2014-15 season; Leicester City’s first in England’s top-flight since relegation back in 2004. Leonardo Ulloa, at the time the club’s record signing, provided aerial ability that rivalled any Premier League defender.
It was the catalyst for some key goals for the Foxes as they picked up points against Everton and Arsenal respectively, and victory over Manchester United for the first time since 1998.
Now the Foxes have that ability in the air again. This time in Slimani. “A glorified Ulloa” was the way some described the Algerian when he made his record move to the King Power Stadium on Deadline Day. With the expert crossing of Marc Albrighton, Claudio Ranieri’s side have the opportunity now to create chance after chance in the air as well as on the ground.
The former Sporting CP man is an expert in link-up play and appears to bring the best out of international team-mate Riyad Mahrez, of whom has excelled over the past week in the Champions League and Premier League.
Top sides usually have the most ammunition on the field of pay. If Slimani offers the same options as he has this week, then the Foxes will shoot down Premier League opposition in the most convincing of circumstances.