The King Power Stadium is quickly becoming the hangout for Premier League scouts with a number of clubs keeping a close eye on Leicester City stars. Kasper Schmeichel, Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez topped a number of wish lists over the summer, while Chelsea parted with £35million to take Daniel Drinkwater to Stamford Bridge.
With clubs now paying extra attention to the 2015/16 Premier League champions, it was inevitable that they would quickly turn their attentions towards the Leicester youngsters. Ben Chilwell was an Arsenal and Liverpool transfer target before agreeing a new deal with the club.
Demarai Gray, a £3.25million signing from Birmingham City, was courted by Everton, Crystal Palace, Bournemouth, Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur throughout the summer of 2017. He extended his stay with the club in November, removing his relatively low buyout clause rumoured to be around the £22million mark.
And now, according to ESPN FC, all of the aforementioned clubs, as well as Stoke City, West Ham United, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Leeds United and RB Leipzig, are looking to sign Leicester’s 19-year-old forward Joshua Eppiah.
He’s yet to make his first-team debut for the Foxes but has been making waves in the youth set-up there, as well as impressing for the Belgian under-19 team.
Everton are hopeful the fact they have Craig Shakespeare and Steve Walsh at the club will make it easier for them to convince the versatile forward to join them at Goodison Park, while both Leeds and Wolves are hopeful that the first-team football they can offer would be enough to tempt him into dropping down into the Championship this January.
The modern game requires forwards to be defensively diligent. Managers need all outfield players to put a shift in, often meaning forwards have to track back into their own half to help put an end to attacks, and only special talents get away with not doing it.
Eppiah does his defensive work and then some; he’s not a player who just coasts and simply goes through the motions. Though more comfortable leading the line, he has operated as a wide forward and is always looking to cover his full-back so that they’re not exposed or isolated.
Often, when work rate is praised it can be because they don’t have any other noticeable strengths, but that’s not the case with Eppiah – he’s the sort of forward the best clubs in the world would want in their squad.
He’s explosively quick and his acceleration sees him breeze past players with relative ease. He’s comfortable with the ball at his feet and his close control makes him a dangerous dribbler. He manipulates the ball at great speed and it’s one of the reasons he’s used in wide areas. He’s got the beating of full-backs he comes up against and positioning him there allows him to take players out of the game.
Eppiah is fleet-footed and could even play in a deeper role, perhaps as a number 10. He’s press-resistant, often managing to wriggle free of the opposition when under pressure and he’s the sort of player to bring relief to your team when under the cosh.
There’s a bit of Eden Hazard about Eppiah when in possession: there’s a swagger he shares with his compatriot, and comparisons to Xherdan Shaqiri wouldn’t be wide of the mark either. He’s a lot more physical than most wingers and at first glance appears stocky. He’s robust, powerful, good in the air and aggressive in his play.
Being just 19 years old, he’s still far from being the complete player. The biggest concern would be how often he loses the ball by trying to do too much. He’ll beat one player and attempt to beat a second despite an obvious pass being on. It leads to attacks breaking down and a high number of turnovers in possession.
While this is a negative, it’s also a positive: he’s got the confidence to try to make something happen and doesn’t pass the responsibility on. Players like that are rare to find but are often the difference makers, the match winners and the game changers in football.
It can be frustrating in the short term, but in the long term it’ll be beneficial to the player and the team he’s turning out for down the line. Of course, it’s very much dependant on him developing and improving his decision making, which is by no means a given, but it is something clubs will be banking on when looking at him.
Is Eppiah worth the fuss?
Definitely. Despite his inexperience there is something special there, and if he fulfils the abundance of potential he has, then down the line he could be worth tens of millions of pounds. It’s very much dependant on the state of the transfer market at the time, but all it takes is one eye-catching season and clubs will be happy to part with £30million to secure his services.
Leicester paid £25million to sign Kelechi Iheanacho, a player with fewer than 50 Premier League appearances to his name. And they weren’t the only team looking to sign the Nigerian.
It’s not something fans want to hear but many clubs buy players with the idea being to sell them on for a profit – Eppiah ticks that box. Leicester will no doubt want to ensure he stays at the club, but if they resist the urge to give him the first-team minutes he wants then the forward could force a move away. Furthermore, his contract status is not yet known, meaning there’s a potential bargain for one of the interested clubs if he’s not tied down to a long-term deal.