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Can Daka Alleviate Leicester’s Vardy Dependency?

Since their promotion to the Premier League in 2014, Leicester City have been relying on one man and one man only for their source of goals – Jamie Vardy. But with Vardy’s legs progressively getting older and older, the onus was on Leicester’s management to find someone who can take the goalscoring burden off the 34-year old’s shoulders. And this season they might’ve found their man – Patson Daka.

Leicester have tried and tested a number of players to act as Vardy’s deputy. From Leonardo Ulloa to Andrej Kramaric, to Shinji Okazaki, to Ahmed Musa, to Kelehi Iheanacho, to Ayoze Perez. And while Ulloa did a superb job in complementing Vardy in Leicester’s first two seasons back in the top flight, others have struggled in manning the task of complimenting the goalscoring prowess of former non-league man Vardy, who seems to age like fine wine.

And while Vardy’s goalscoring form is a sight to behold, it raises a nagging issue – who will step up to the plate should Vardy gets injured, or worse, retire?

With that in mind, Leicester brought in Zambia international Daka from Red Bull Salzburg in the 2021/22 pre-season. Having inherited the heir of Salzburg’s main striker from the one and only Erling Haaland himself, Daka lit the Austrian Bundesliga in the 2020/21 season, scoring 27 goals in 28 games as he was crowned the league’s player of the year.

And being trained in Salzburg’s prestigious footballing factory, Daka has plenty of esteemed upperclassmen whom he looked up to. The likes of Liverpool trio Sadio Mane, Naby Keita, and Takumi Minamino, Haaland who’s now plying his trade with Borussia Dortmund, Israeli danger man Mu’nas Dabbur who now plays alongside Kramaric at TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, and Wolverhampton Wanderers’ on-loan South Korean striker Hwang Hee-chan to name a few.

With such a pedigree, one might expect Daka to explode to life as soon as he stepped into the King Power Stadium, however much to the surprise of everyone the Zambian started life in the Premier League quite slowly. Daka only made two substitute appearances in the league, with two more substitute cameos in the Carabao Cup. Leicester head coach Brendan Rodgers entrusted Daka in leading the Foxes’ lines in their Europa League campaign, however, he failed to find the back of the net as Leicester could only draw 2-2 with Napoli at the King Power and succumbed to a shock 1-0 loss away at Legia Warsaw.

However, Daka’s second substitute appearance in the Premier League showed flashes of promise on why Leicester shelled out an undisclosed fee for his services before his third European bow made everyone stand up in awe.

Hosting Manchester United in their eighth Premier League match of the season, Daka was thrown into the mix in the 77th minute with the scoreline tied at 1-1. Seconds afterward Caglar Soyuncu made it 2-1 Leicester however Marcus Rashford drew things level again in the 82nd minute. Refusing to give up, Vardy pounced in to regain the lead for Leicester only moments afterward.

And in the first minute of injury time, Daka worked his magic, bundling in Leicester’s fourth goal that ensured a 4-2 win for the Foxes over the Red Devils, and the Premier League has seen brief glimpses of attacking talent that made Daka one of the Austrian Bundesliga’s most fearsome players.

But the best was yet to come.

Traveling away to the Otkritie Arena in Moscow, Russia, Leicester took on hosts Spartak Moscow in a do-or-die clash. Anything other than a win would severely damage Leicester’s hopes of progressing out of their Europa League group stage.

And for the opening 45 minutes, it seems that Leicester were once again outclassed by their opponents. Spartak went 2-0 up before Daka slotted home a consolation right after the hosts’ second goal, which ensured that Leicester are still well and truly alive in this game. 2-1 Spartak at half-time and the home fans could be forgiven that they expected their heroes to pile on more pain on Leicester.

Instead, the second half was a one-man-show run by Daka himself, with the Zambian drawing things level three minutes after the restart before his hat-trick was complete in the 54th minute. Not content in finishing the game with three goals to his name, Daka scored his fourth in the 78th minute, ensuring that the pendulum has well and truly swung in Leicester’s favor.

Spartak’s Alexander Sobolev completed his brace in the 86th minute but by then the damage has been done. Leicester managed to hang on for the 4-3 win and all three points that came with it, ensuring that their European campaign is still alive for yet another matchweek.

Receiving his match ball at the end of the game, Daka had only one man to thank for his incredible quad-trick. And that man is none other than Jamie Vardy.

“Jamie has been one of my inspirations,” said Daka, as quoted from BBC Sport after Leicester’s dramatic win in Moscow, “I am sure you can tell with the kind of playing style that I have, which is similar to him. It is a big privilege for me to be working alongside him. He helps me a lot in training. I keep learning each and every day and I am blessed to be in this position.”

Those who knew Daka well from his pre-Leicester playing days knew that the Zambian had something special within him.

Chris Kaunda was the director of the Airtel Rising Stars, a program whose goal is to find talented young footballers from all over Zambia. Kaunda came across Daka in 2012, with the latter among the 60 talented youngsters recruited by the Rising Stars from Zambia’s 10 provinces, being the best one out of the lot.

“I immediately noticed that he was special. Patson was speedy, powerful, good in the air, and could shoot with both feet, even though his right was clearly stronger. He was the most dangerous striker by a distance,” said Kaunda, as quoted from BBC Sport, “What makes Patson so special is that he is a quick learner because he is a great listener. He wants to improve all the time and takes notice of all the instructions coaches give him. He’s charismatic, a good leader, hates losing, and has a superb fighting spirit. I expected him to become a big star and Leicester City are just a step on his way up. Remember my words, bigger clubs are going to sign him.”

New York Red Bulls head coach Gerhard Struber was once Daka’s mentor during his tenure at FC Liefering, Salzburg’s reserve team playing in the Austrian second tier. He too, was impressed by what Daka had shown him throughout his years in Austria.

From the very first second, it was obvious Patson was a great talent, but he also had an incredible attitude,” said former Barnsley head coach Struber, as quoted from BBC Sport, “He wanted to learn our style of play, with high pressing and quick transition, and worked tirelessly without the ball. When the other team is in possession, he fights like a defender. His desire to succeed and improve is phenomenal.”

“He’s just like Sadio Mane,” Struber continued, “He is humble and always works for the team. Patson has no ego. Even after several great performances, he would never think that he is special. He handles success brilliantly. He is a role model for other players.”

Humble as he is, Daka had a number of personal accolades to his name. The aforementioned Austrian Bundesliga Player of the Year for the 2020/21 season is one, the CAF Young Player of the Year in 2017 is another. He also led Zambia to the 2015 CAF U-17 Championship for the first time in history with his goals, although the nation went out in the group stages in the tournament proper. Still, that doesn’t stop anyone from seeing the great potential held within Daka.

With his quad-trick against Spartak undoubtedly boosting his confidence tenfold, it’s only a matter of time until Rodgers paired Daka together with Vardy in a Leicester City starting lineup. Should Daka fulfil the huge potential within him, then Leicester’s age-long quest of finding the proper heir to Vardy will be finally over.