Is Shinji Okazaki coming to the end at Leicester City?
By Светлана Бекетова (soccer.ru) [CC BY-SA 3.0 GFDL, CC BY-SA 3.0]
Shinji Okazaki struggles for form while playing for Leicester City this season. Consequently, the Japanese striker could be on his way out of the club when his contract comes to an end next summer.
Okazaki remained a regular in the starting lineup when Claude Puel was appointed manager in October 2017. The Frenchman announced in January that Okazaki would be offered a new deal. None months later, it has yet to materialise.
Instead, the 32-year-old finds himself on the periphery without a league start this season. Competition is fierce for a place in the Foxes' attack. Jamie Vardy and Kelechi Iheanacho are the first and second choices, with the Samurai Blue the odd man out. His poor scoring record at the King Power Stadium prevents Puel from trusting him to lead the line. As his powers wane, that won't change, which fuels the rumours he is due to exit.
Falling out of favour
Puel arrived at Leicester on October 25, just over a year ago. he relied on Okazaki in 20 of City’s remaining 29 Premier League games, starting him eleven times. The return on the Frenchman's investment was two goals and an ankle injury that bled into the 2018/19 pre-season.
Okazaki wouldn’t return until late August for a two-minute cameo against Southampton. The striker has made six league appearances off the bench this season, averaging just over eight minutes of playing time per and can’t get in ahead of Jamie Vardy and Kelechi Iheanacho. He's lost Puel's trust.
A move to Galatasaray is mooted but Okazaki may yet see the season out before deciding his future.
Leicester biding their time
There’s also a chance Leicester want to leave it late. Okazaki's spent three years at Leicester, making 120 appearances in all competitions. He's unlikely to rock the boat just because he isn’t playing. His attitude and selfless behaviour draw constant praise from King Power faithful. There'll be no Riyad Mahrez type powerplays from his camp. His affinity with the supporters makes it more likely he'll see out his contract.
Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha's tragic passing, if it doesn't complicate club business, at least delays it. Vice-chairman Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha is expected to step in alongside Director of Football Jon Rudkin. Non-urgent club decisions will be set on the back-burner while the club mourns their influential and highly-popular owner.
If Okazaki’s contract wasn't a high priority in the New Year, it isn't now. There’s no doubt he’ll have clubs vying for his services in January, but Leicester are coping without him. There's no rush to clarify his future.
Given they paid around £7.5 million to Mainz in 2015 to procure his signature, however, City may want a return on their investment. That may open the door to a January sale. That said, he's a useful squad player who would need replacing. With two months to the transfer window and the club facing an unanticipated reorganisation, the best move is to retain his services until season's end.