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Nigel Pearson’s drawn out chase for Esteban Cambiasso was worth it in the end. After trying to lure the midfielder away from Inter Milan for over a year, the Leicester manager closed in last August and finally landed his man as deadline day loomed, handing the Argentine his favoured number 19 shirt that was kept free.
Jettisoned from Inter alongside Walter Samuel, Diego Milito and Christian Chivu as the Italian club looked to bring down the average age of their squad, Cambiasso moved to Leicester 10 days after his 34th birthday, deciding against a return to River Plate or a move to the MLS.
Gloriously decorated from his time in Europe with Real Madrid and a decade at Inter, the ageing midfielder could have opted to move back over the Atlantic for a career wind-down, but he would seize the challenge of keeping the newly-promoted Leicester in the Premier League. Cambiasso would sign a one-year deal partly motivated by a desire to say he had played in the Premier League.
What a year it would be. Despite his advancing years, Cambiasso managed 31 appearances in the Premier League and 5 goals as he led Leicester to survival via the great escape of seven wins from their last nine games. A series of commanding displays culminated in May with Leicester’s Player of the Year award and a goal in the 5-1 crushing of QPR on the final day.
That however, with the fears that the Argentine would not extended his year-long deal, would prove to be his final appearance in a Leicester shirt as he decided to follow Pearson out of the departure door. With the coach who brought the midfielder to the King Power stadium sacked and replaced by Claudio Ranieri, Cambiasso announced that he would not be extending his stay in the east midlands.
It leaves Leicester with a huge midfield void and the Italian manager the substantial task of replacing him. How Ranieri could do with Cambiasso’s leadership and vast experience as he returns to the Premier League under scrutiny over recent blemishes on his CV, it is why he has announced he is searching the “entire world” to find a “champion” capable of filling the now-gaping hole in his engine room.
So far, all Leicester’s business this summer was completed under Pearson’s watch while under Ranieri has experienced frustration in his bids to sign Nampalys Mendy from Nice and N’Golo Kante from Caen. With Matty James out until Christmas with a knee injury and Danny Drinkwater, Dean Hammond and Andy King the only first-team central-midfielders available to Ranieri, the feeling of frustration could soon turn to worry as the opening day fixture with Sunderland suddenly begins to loom.
Chelsea duo Nathan Ake and Oriel Romeu have also been targeted, but neither of them will provide the influence or inspiration Cambiasso exhumed both on and off the field. A leader who brought class and a battling quality to Leicester’s squad, only four players at the club made more interceptions than his 64 while nobody attempted more tackles than his 115.
His quality on the ball was also apparent as he returned Leicester’s best passing stats with 752 successful passes while no outfield player at the club found their man more than the 72 times Cambiasso managed. Combative and tenacious but also possessing the technique and vision to dictate Leicester’s play and to create 37 chances, only Riyad Mahrez managed more from his position on the wing, it was remarkable that Leicester found themselves paying absolutely nothing for a player of such pivotal importance.
As Ranieri enters as the underwhelming choice to replace Pearson, the exit of the midfielder with whom he fissured relations during the Italian’s time in charge of Inter could prove fatal as Leicester embark on a second season in the top-flight. Many have put Cambiasso’s decision to leave down to the 3-5-2, which Pearson used to great effect last term and in which the Argentine thrived, that Ranieri is likely to abandon.
With a diamond possibly in contention to be favoured, Cambiasso would have acknowledged that a single defensive midfield slot would have seen him struggle with the pace of the Premier League as he approaches the age of 35.
Looking positively, the loss of the Argentine may morph into a positive for Ranieri should he find a more mobile holding midfielder which would then allow him to direct his team to play more on the front foot. A €15 million bid for Charles Aranguiz of Brazilian club Internacional may certainly ensure that shift happens successfully.
He will have to accept however that Cambiasso’s leadership qualities will be difficult to replicate in a squad that now looks desperately short on that remit. That influence could be lost to a rival Premier League club as Sunderland, Aston Villa and West Ham have all mounted an interest with the Argentine having spoken previously about how much he has enjoyed his time in England.
Wherever his journey takes him next, Leicester could be left feeling the full effect of Cambiasso’s exit next May if Ranieri fails to fill his shoes with the required acumen.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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