The Leicester City midfielder was converted by the Belgian at Luminus Arena, and credited him for helping to shape his career
Ndidi started out as a defender at Nath Boys Academy before he was converted to a midfielder during his spell with the four-time Belgian champions because of his slight physique after Maes replaced Alex McLeish.
Even at that, the 23-year-old adapted quickly in the role to become one of the best holding midfielders in the world.
Since his move to Leicester City in 2017, Ndidi has been named as Premier League top tackler for two consecutive seasons – beating the likes of Idrissa Gueye, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and N’Golo Kante to that honour.
“That was when I went to Genk. I was signed by Alex McLeish – who was the manager then but he was using me as a left-back and as a right-back because we had [Kalidou] Koulibaly and [Kara] Mbodji and [Christian] Kabasele playing in the as central back position,” Ndidi said.
“I was too skinny to play in that position and everywhere I went, I was told that I had to work hard, you have to build your muscles and all that.
“McLeish left after six months and the new manager [Peter Maes] came in and transformed me into a defensive midfielder. It was another challenge and I had to prove myself.
“That was another pressure for me because I was trying to prove myself being a central defender and he moved me to a position where I never played before.
“I was nervous, scared but I was doing well in training but that was very different from a game situation.”
Ndidi’s audition as a defensive midfielder came in a league outing against rivals Gent on July 31, 2015. In the game at Ghelamco-Arena, the Smurfs bowed 1-0 thanks to a 43rd-minute penalty converted by Sven Kums.
In that clash, the Nigerian, who claimed to have put up a below-par outing, was substituted at half-time by Bryan Heynen. Despite his unimposing outing, Maes kept faith in him and handed him a starters’ role in their 3-1 triumph over Oh Leuven – albeit he was a 66th-minute replacement for Heynen.
“My first game playing in that position was against Gent who were preparing for the Champions League plus it was an away game. I was substituted in the first half, I was so sad and I didn’t know what was going on in the pitch. I was just running like a headless chicken,” he added.
“The manager called me during the next training and kept encouraging me because he knew I was nervous. He told me ‘just play with your qualities, be yourself and keep it simple’.
“In the next game, I was substituted again in the first half but the thing was that the manager believed in me. He saw something in me and he keep on pushing me to be better.
“I got confident to the extent that I could shoot because I couldn’t shoot before for the fear of being substituted in the first half. Here I am today.
“The manager didn’t change my position and left me there. He changed my position and kept encouraging me.”
After three seasons at the Luminus Arena, he was snapped up by then-English champions Leicester for £17 million as a replacement for Chelsea-bound Kante.