Leicester City

Boubakary Soumare: Leicester's ready-made replacement for Youri Tielemans

Matt O'Connor-Simpson
Soumare caught they eye with Lille last season
Soumare caught they eye with Lille last season / Sylvain Lefevre/Getty Images

It is hard to think of a better run football club in Europe than Leicester City.

In the five summer transfer windows following their incredible Premier League title win, they have ritualistically purged one seemingly key player from the squad, while still managing to improve season after season. 

N’Golo Kante was the first to depart, with Danny Drinkwater, Riyad Mahrez, Harry Maguire and Ben Chilwell following him out of the exit door in an orderly queue after that. Those transfers have earned Leicester a combined £250m, funds they have reinvested in a state of the art training ground and a string of exciting new players. 

The Foxes seem likely to stick to the same blueprint this summer. Early on, James Maddison seemed the most likely to depart with Arsenal heavily linked with a big money move. 

More recently though, Leicester fans have started sweating over the future of another midfielder, Youri Tielemans. Liverpool are known to be long-time admirers of the Belgian and with Georginio Wijnaldum recently joining Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer, the timing has never been better for the Reds to pull the trigger.

The only thing that may stop Liverpool from negotiating a deal is Leicester's asking price for Tielemans, as it's widely acknowledged that their may be better 'value' available in one of Europe's top five leagues.

Leicester are also keen to offer Tielemans a fresh contract, though the Belgian is yet to rule out an exit.

If he is tempted into a move to Anfield, it will be the biggest loss to the Leicester squad since Mahrez departed back in 2018. Ever since he arrived on loan Tielemans has been a near ever-present in the Leicester side. In fact, since his debut against Tottenham back in February 2019, he has missed just one Premier League game.

Tielemans has not even been rested in lesser competitions. He missed just one game during the Foxes’ run to the EFL Cup semi-final and played every minute as Leicester won the FA Cup last term. 

Brendan Rodgers, Youri Tielemans
Tielemans has been a firm favourite of Brendan Rodgers / Michael Regan/Getty Images

Brendan Rodgers’ reliance on Tielemans is as understandable as it is undeniable. The guy can do a little bit of everything. As comfortable sitting deep dictating the tempo as he is hurrying his opponents and winning back the ball, the fact that top European clubs allowed him to slip through the net in 2019 became more unbelievable with each passing game last season.

He completed the sixth most progressive passes in the Premier League last term, the 24th most tackles and the 16th most shot creating actions. These stats sum up the versatility of Tielemans nicely, but they don’t tell the whole story. 

Watch him play and you will soon pick up that he is one of Leicester’s on-field leaders. As well as setting a fine example with his displays, he also provides plenty of verbal and physical instruction to his teammates. Almost like a quarterback, Tielemans dictates how his side plays with the ball. 

It goes without saying that replacing Tielemans, if he does depart this summer, will be an absolute priority for the Foxes. 

This is easier said than done, though. As well as finding the perfect successor, Leicester will also have to conduct the negotiations with every club in Europe knowing that they are one, desperate, and two, holding a significant wedge of cash following Tielemans’ sale.

This has stung Leicester before. They left it late selling Maguire for a world record fee and were then quoted comical prices for the likes of Lewis Dunk, James Tarkowski and Nathan Ake. Instead, they were forced to turn to a rarely used squad player, Caglar Soyuncu for their first game of the season. 

10 months later, he would be named in the PFA Team of the Year ahead of Maguire and countless others. 

Leicester can learn something from this scenario. Namely, the answer to their Tielemans conundrum may already be at the club. No, we are not referring to the functional but limited Nampalys Mendy. We are talking about Boubakary Soumare, recently recruited from Ligue 1 winners Lille for just £18m.

Boubakary Soumare
Soumare could be Leicester's next midfield revelation / Sylvain Lefevre/Getty Images

Soumare has been a favourite of the football analytics community for some time and he also looks good on a YouTube highlights reel. Preferring to pull the strings from deep, his combination of technique and physicality means he can glide past opponents as well. 

Comparing his season to Tielemans’ last time out returns some pleasing results. Soumare averaged more progressive passes per 90 minutes, registered a far higher pass completion rate and also played significantly more passes into the final third.  

Defensively, Soumare also posted some very interesting numbers last season. He bettered Tielemans in tackles, clearances and interceptions per 90 minutes last time out, with Lille and Leicester spending a similar amount of time out of possession. 

For all of this promising data, Soumare has not yet shown that he possesses his teammates robust nature. He missed six Ligue 1 games last season and failed to start in half a dozen or so more, while the previous shortened campaign also saw him sit out in spells. 

The big question hanging over Soumare is the same one that lingers for most foreign imports. Can he adjust to life in a new country and league? We will not have an answer to this for some time but as he is still just 22, there is plenty of time for Soumare to get used to his new surroundings. 

If he does make this adjustment there is nothing stopping him becoming the latest in a long line of Leicester City miracles.