It’s May 15th, 2021 and a reduced-capacity crowd – along with the millions watching at home – have enjoyed a tense first hour of the FA Cup Final between Chelsea and Leicester City. The match is still goalless, but the deadlock is just about to be broken.
With 63 minutes on the clock, Leicester’s Ayoze Perez wins the ball back in midfield and feeds it inside to Youri Tielemans. The Belgian’s first touch pushes the ball into the space in front, his second sets up a shooting opportunity fully 30 yards from goal, and his third is an unstoppable drive beyond Kepa Arrizabalaga. The dictionary definition of top bins.
That was the goal that won the Cup for The Foxes (their first ever) and Tielemans was the undisputed star of the show. He picked up the Man of the Match award alongside his winner’s medal, underlining his status as a key summer target for elite clubs across Europe. Liverpool led the pack for the £50m-rated midfield ace with Manchester United and Juventus also in the hunt, if reports at the time are to be believed.
Belgium’s perceived underperformance at the European Championships that summer cooled some of the hype and helped Leicester keep hold of their talisman into the next season. In hindsight, however, the bosses sitting round the boardroom table at the King Power may be wishing they cashed in on Tielemans when they had the chance, as he’s struggled to reach the same heights in the two years since.
He’s not the only Foxes asset to have depreciated in value over the last couple of seasons, either: Caglar Soyuncu, Daniel Amartey, Nampalys Mendy, Jonny Evans, Ryan Bertrand and Ayoze Perez are all out of contract this summer. Brendan Rodgers’ team embarked on a single-minded charge to ruin everyone’s football accumulators in 2023: A six-game winless streak that culminated in a last-minute defeat against fellow strugglers Crystal Palace proved to be the final nail in the Irishman’s coffin.
It’s perhaps telling that former Monaco man Tielemans, who suffered an ankle ligament injury in February, was unavailable for selection during the spell that spelled the end of Rodgers’ tenure. While Tielemans’ stock is not as high as it was two years ago, he’ll still be one of the bargains of the summer should he decide to leave the East Midlands on a free transfer after his contract expires at the end of June.
Liverpool still haven’t sorted their own problems in central midfield so Anfield remains a possible destination for the Belgian who, at 25 years old, should just be progressing into the peak of his career. Arsenal, who will certainly be keen to add depth to their squad in the summer, are also interested while Newcastle United’s newfound spending power and likely qualification for Champions League football puts them in a strong position to attract talent.
Tielemans’ vision, technical ability, and range of passing are up there with the best of the best so if he does decline a new deal at Leicester, the Foxes will be left with a significant hole in the centre of the pitch. The Belgian will certainly leave if the Foxes get relegated and, if they stay up, new manager Dean Smith will have his work cut out to turn Leicester back into top-half contenders in 2022/23 without him.