Almost immediately after taking charge at Leicester City, Claudio Ranieri found himself doing all he could to convince Esteban Cambiasso to remain at the King Power Stadium for another season. “I said to him: 'I need you. Everybody loves you, please come back’,” the coach revealed, but the veteran midfielder decided to ignore those pleas and pursue other opportunities.
The former Inter man was arguably the club’s most influential player in 2014/15, and without him it is unlikely the club would have retained their Premier League status this past summer. After suffering a serious decline over his last two years in Milan, Cambiasso had enjoyed a rejuvenated spell with The Foxes, winning over a whole new set of fans in the process.
“He was always willing to talk to us and help us,” Danny Drinkwater told Sky Sports, and Ranieri knew the void he would leave behind. “If he doesn't come I need a new team leader,” the Italian coach told reporters, and following Cambiasso’s decision he would look to the peninsula once again, identifying Napoli’s Gökhan Inler as the ideal replacement.
Like the Argentinean, he will bring a wealth of international experience to Leicester, having played at the highest level for club and country but now finding himself surplus to requirements in Serie A. His career has been a steady climb to the top, beginning as it did in the youth sector of Olten, a small club in the town his Turkish parents had emigrated to.
Eventually he would move on to Basel and almost joined Fenerbahçe before spending a brief spell with FC Aarau, then quickly moving on to FC Zürich where he would help win back-to-back league titles. That prompted Udinese to meet the buyout clause in his contract during the summer of 2007, and a four year spell with the Italian club would see him mature immeasurably as a player.
Having represented both Turkey and Switzerland at Under-21 level, he had already received his first full international call up by the latter before making the switch to Serie A, but it was under the guidance of Coach Francesco Guidolin that his talent truly came to the fore. “He’s our secret weapon,” Inler said in an interview with Sky Italia, Italy’s biggest clubs finally taking notice of the combative midfielder as he helped Udinese end the campaign in fourth place.
Juventus were strongly linked with a move for him, but he would eventually join Napoli, whose strong stance on image rights saw talks drag on for almost two months. With the move openly discussed in public by all three parties, his unveiling by the southern club took a bizarre twist when Inler entered his inaugural press conference wearing a lion mask.
“We just found it and thought it would be a fun idea,” he revealed later, but Inler would also discover over the following four seasons that life at the Stadio San Paolo was much tougher than at any of his previous clubs. Napoli had invested heavily in the squad and owner Aurelio De Laurentiis expected results, yet the Partenopei have yet to truly mount a serious title bid.
Inler – who is now the captain of his national team – often struggled to hold down a regular place in the side, particularly last season under Rafael Benitez as he made just 16 league starts. Now, with two Coppa Italia winner’s medals to his name, the 31-year-old seems set to move on and he would appear tailor to be made for the demands of the Premier League.
While Napoli and Benitez may have been looking for a player who could deliver more going forward, Inler remains an intelligent and industrious holding midfielder. Comfortable passing the ball with either foot, he is strong in the tackle, reads the game particularly well and is largely aware of the limitations in his game.
Inler does like to shoot from distance however, occasionally scoring an incredible goal but more often than not missing by some distance. Indeed, statistics taken from Squawka.com show he found the target with just 32% of his attempts on goal in 2014/15, netting just once in all competitions. At 6’ tall (1.83m) he is strong in the air, but like Cambiasso it is his willingness to sacrifice for the team that really makes him stand out.
“You win together and you lose together. You can’t win alone,” he remarked as he led Switzerland to the knockout stages of last summer’s World Cup. It is with that mind-set that Gökhan Inler, alongside Claudio Ranieri, will hope to orchestrate a path to ensuring Leicester City retain their top flight status once again this season.
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