When Leicester City secured the services of Esteban Cambiasso, it was rightly viewed as a major coup. The Champions League and five-time Serie A winner rocking up at the King Power Stadium injected some much-needed experience into the Premier League returnees' midfield. The Foxes may have won just 11 league games last season, but Cambiasso’s knowhow helped the club secure safety at the first attempt by a comfortable 6 points.
Following the culmination of his one-year deal at the club, however, the Argentine opted against prolonging his stay at Leicester, despite the wishes of recently-appointed manager Claudio Ranieri, who pleaded “please come back” to the midfielder. One can understand Ranieri’s desire for Cambiasso’s return to the club. The 34-year-old, though, rejected Leicester’s offer of a new contract 24 hours after it was offered, thus allowing the Foxes ample time to secure his replacement. However, reports over a frosty relationship between player and coach during their time together at Inter as a reason for him swiftly turning down the contract are perhaps wide of the mark, as WhoScored’s resident Italian football expert James Horncastle elaborates.
"Inter were in a desperate state. They'd sacked Gasperini, replaced him with Ranieri and were only beginning to come to terms with no longer being competitive even though a number of the treble winners remained. It's been said that Cambiasso fell out with Ranieri over the sale of Thiago Motta but that doesn't ring true as it was a decision taken over his head and one that the player pushed through. He couldn't really have done anything about it. If anything, the tension owed to Ranieri's opinion that Inter didn't have enough energy in midfield.
"The focus fell on Cambiasso and Zanetti. It was said they looked old and couldn't get around like they used to. Cambiasso definitely proved he isn't finished and could still contribute at Leicester. The symbolic images of that Ranieri era at Inter are of Cambiasso crying after a substitution against Catania. The tears were as much to do with the whistling of the fans than any resentment towards Ranieri for making the change. Incidentally Ranieri cried too the following game when Inter finally ended a 7 game run without a win by beating Chievo in Verona with a couple of late goals after Milito had missed a penalty. It was a strange time at Inter."
Leicester now need to swiftly move on from Cambiasso’s decision to reject their offer, even if that is with a heavy heart. For any team, seeing the previous season’s player of the year depart for pastures new is a tough pill to swallow and Cambiasso is no different. While his WhoScored rating was a relatively modest 6.97, Leicester have undeniably lost one of their most important players.
When the Foxes required a leader to drag them through the mire to safety, Cambiasso grabbed games by the scruff of the neck for the good of the team. This infectious control saw his teammates up their game as Leicester ended the campaign the in-form team. Under Nigel Pearson, they won 7 of their last 9 games of the season and while the former Foxes boss warrants the adulation for his tactical switch up, it was Cambiasso’s ability in a three-man midfield that largely contributed to their end of season flourish.
However, while Pearson may have been keen to maintain a similar 5-3-2 system in the upcoming campaign prior to his sacking, Ranieri could opt against doing so. When the wily Italian took charge of Inter following Gian Piero Gasperini’s dismal three-month spell at the San Siro helm in 2011, he was quick to banish the 3-5-2 system his compatriot hoped to instill to the side, instead reverting to a back-to-basics 4-4-2. It’s for this reason why Cambiasso perhaps considered it best not to extend his spell at Leicester.
At 34, Cambiasso’s impact in a two-man midfield would be limited, with opposition players able to easily bypass the aging star, opening gaps to be exploited between the midfield and defence. In a three-man midfield, Cambiasso had runners such as Danny Drinkwater, Andy King and Matty James alongside him to perform the dogged duties, allowing the former Real Madrid and Inter ace to orchestrate play in the middle of the park. Drinkwater said of his now former teammate, he was “willing to talk to us and help us.”
Accentuating Cambiasso’s WhoScored strength of ‘concentration’, he was able to read the game astutely, meaning those around him benefitted from his ability to sniff out danger before it manifested. Without being able to cover ground as he once could, Cambiasso would ensure a teammate was in the right place at the right time, particularly in a three-man midfield. That isn’t to say the midfielder shirked from his defensive responsibilities, averaging a respectable 2.3 tackles per game, while 2.1 interceptions per match was the sixth best of all Leicester players. Perhaps more surprisingly, only Leonardo Ulloa (11) scored more league goals than Cambiasso (5) at the club last term.
Meanwhile, with players around him freeing up space in the middle of the park, Cambiasso was able to control proceedings from midfield, with his average of 36.1 passes per league game the third best at Leicester last season. The likes of Drinkwater and James are unlikely to be considered good enough to replace Cambiasso at the heart of the midfield, but having played alongside a player of the Argentine’s ilk will only improve them.
It’s crucial now, however, that Leicester move swiftly to secure another midfielder to cover the gaping hole left in the middle of the park. Caen’s N’Golo Kanté, who made more tackles (176) than any other player in Europe’s top 5 leagues last term, has been linked with a move to Leicester, though little has materialised since rumours surfaced some weeks ago. Indeed, a player of the 24-year-old’s ilk would be an ideal replacement - physically - for Cambiasso in the midfield.
However, the Foxes will undoubtedly miss his experience and leadership qualities in Renieri’s debut campaign in charge. A list of potential suitors include West Ham and Aston Villa and both teams would benefit from a player of Cambiasso’s ilk in the team. Leicester, though, are likely to suffer in the wake of the midfielder’s decision to depart the King Power Stadium.
How do you think Leicester will fare without Esteban Cambiasso in the Premier League next season? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below