What can new signing Islam Slimani bring to Leicester?
Leicester's sensational exploits to win the Premier League title last season were fuelled to a large extent by the prolific Jamie Vardy, whose remarkable ascension up the football ladder is well documented. Less well-known is the equally meteoric upward trajectory of his new strike partner, Islam Slimani.
In an amazing three-year journey, Slimani went from an average performer in the Algerian league to the most feared centre-forward in Portugal. And now, after arriving on deadline day for a fee of €35 million, he is a Leicester player.
Leicester fans will get their first look at the 28-year-old striker on Saturday evening when the Premier League champions take on Liverpool at Anfield. Here's five things they can expect from their record signing.
1. He's lethal in the air
Without doubt the Algerian's strongest asset is his deadly heading prowess. Standing 6-foot-2, Slimani uses his height and strength to great effect in the opposition area. He times his runs and jumps to perfection, and is equally adept at producing bullet headers or using the pace of well-delivered crosses to expertly direct the ball into the net. He is also a big asset in helping to defend free kicks and corners in his own box.
Sporting coach Jorge Jesus said while co-commentating on Portuguese TV during the England vs. Portugal friendly before this summer's European Championship: "If Vardy is the top scorer in England, then with the right coach Slimani would score double the number of goals as him."
2. He is a real work horse
As well as his goals and willingness to follow whatever instructions the three managers he played for at Sporting gave him, what made Slimani such an icon among the Alvalade faithful was his insatiable work rate. He worked hard for every minute of the game, throwing himself into challenges all over the pitch, running the channels tirelessly, and using his big frame to batter the opposition into submission. Slimani never gives up on what others would consider a lost cause. In short, he is a nightmare to play against.
3. He has a big-game temperament
Another facet to Slimani's game that so endeared him to Sporting's fans was his productivity in the biggest matches, which also suggests the step up to Premier League football will not be a step too far.
Portugal may not have the strongest league in Europe, but Benfica, Porto and Braga provide stern opposition. In a total of 24 matches against Sporting's three biggest domestic rivals, Slimani scored 16 goals. Last season Sporting played the trio eight times, and in only two of those games did the Algerian fail to find the net.
After they were drawn with Leicester in the Champions League group stages, Porto fans must have let out a collective groan upon hearing about Slimani's transfer to the Foxes. In his last three games against the Dragons, Slimani has bagged five goals.
4. He is happy to get into a battle
At the end of 90 minutes, Premier League defenders charged with marking Slimani will know they've been in a battle. Liberal use of his arms has got the Algerian into trouble in Portugal on several occasions, with Porto calling out a flailing elbow just two weeks ago.
In a particularly bad-tempered Lisbon derby in last season's Portuguese Cup, city rivals Benfica were infuriated he was not red-carded for hitting the throat of Greek midfielder Andreas Samaris. TV replays showed they were justified in their complaints, although the fierce nature of the game mitigated Slimani's actions in Sporting's eyes. The lesson learned? If it's one of those matches that turns into a battle, expect Slimani to be on the front line.
5. He is willing to learn, and shows humility and intelligence
Slimani joined Sporting in August 2013 and the first impressions were not the best. His poor technique persuaded many to conclude early on that he did not have the necessary quality for a club of Sporting's ambitions. But perceptions soon changed as improvements became apparent in just about every aspect of his game: positioning, tactical awareness, touch, passing and finishing.
He scored 10, 15 and then 31 goals in his three seasons at Sporting, which accurately reflects his development. Under Jesus especially, his game progressed to a whole different level, and Slimani himself recognises the role the charismatic Sporting manager played in his career.
"He's a world-class coach, a genius, and I'm not exaggerating," he said. "He points out details that seem irrelevant, but suddenly you realise why. He makes you improve every day and it's a pleasure to work with him."
The ability to take his coach's recommendations on board shows that Slimani has intelligence and humility to go with his brawn. The tears he shed after coming off the pitch in his last match for Sporting only cemented his place in the hearts of the Lisbon club's fans. Upon his departure, hundreds of messages from Sporting supporters flooded social media wishing Slimani luck at his new club.
Tom Kundert covers Portuguese football for ESPN FC. Twitter: @PortuGoal1.