'I just wanted to play football': Wilfred Ndidi on reaching 200 appearances for Leicester City

Nigeria midfielder Wilfred Ndidi has made more than a double century of appearances for Leicester City, his 200th coming on Feb. 17 against Danish side Randers, but said he never expected such longevity with the Foxes.

The Nigeria stalwart moved to King Power Stadium in 2017 from Belgian side Genk, essentially a stopgap replacement for N'Golo Kante, but instead turned himself into one of the most valuable players in the team.

Ndidi, with trademark humility, told ESPN that he never even thought about the milestone before it was noted by others: "I was not thinking about all that before the game [against Randers].

"But it means a lot to me to be able to make 200 appearances for Leicester and also to score because I am seeing myself growing and I am very proud of that."

He added: "When I joined, I didn't think of anything [like this]. I just wanted to play football, but with prayer, hard work, and believing in myself, I think that is what has helped me.

"And it also helps when you have a great manager that understands you, teammates that you enjoy being around, the culture of the club and the fans. It all makes it easier to focus and just play."

It has been a long and rewarding road for the midfielder, who started his career at Nath Boys FC, an amateur club in Nigeria, spending some time with Nigerian Premier League side MFM FC, and then on to Belgium with KRC Genk before joining Leicester in 2017.

Since then, Ndidi has gone on to play 163 games in the Premier League, 15 in the League Cup, 10 in the FA Cup, eight in the Europa League, four in the Champions League, two in the UEFA Conference League, and one in the Community Shield for 203 in total so far.

Ndidi has grown to become one of the most respected, and coveted, holding midfielders in the game, with Foxes manager Brendan Rodgers stressing his importance to the team to the media in February.

Rodgers said of the Nigerian: "He's been a really important player in my time here for his role. You see the importance of the role I give him in the team in how he protects the others.

"It's a very young team as well and his experience and physicality help those players. He's been absolutely brilliant, whatever role I've asked him to play whether it's centre-half or midfield."

Ndidi's key value to Leicester lies in his ability to win the ball, as seen by his prominence in the Premier League's official Tackles and Interceptions statistics: His numbers are down this season, befitting the broader malaise at the club, but previously he ranked top four for tackles in each of his previous four seasons at the club -- topping the count in 2017-18 and 2018-19 -- and figured prominently for interceptions.

Those numbers are key in illustrating his importance in creating transitions for a team that is still perhaps at its best on the counter-attack despite Rodgers' preference for dominance on the ball.

That importance has seen interest from the likes of Manchester United and Aston Villa, with reports suggesting a GBP50 million swoop from the Red Devils could be impending in the offseason.

Rodgers said Ndidi is worth much more, but expects him to be at the club for a long time: "He's worth much more than that [£50million.

"When you have that player he will always attract that interest. But he seems very settled here and I know he's moved into a new house over this last period and seems very happy.

"He's a pleasure to work with, a good guy and hopefully he can be around the club for many, many years."

The Nigerian is not thinking that far ahead, and just like when he joined the club, his ambitions are more modest.

He said: "I just want to keep working hard and enjoying my game every moment. I am working on improving myself every day to become a better player."

Ndidi is also a key part of the Nigeria team, and although the Super Eagles suffered a poor Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year, they have two big games coming up this month against West African rivals Ghana, and Ndidi hopes to make it to another World Cup.

He said of the World Cup qualifier knockouts: "It will mean a lot for us to go back to the World Cup.

"But Ghana will not be easy. To be honest, we have to be careful about their whole team and not just any specific players. It will be two tough games."