How Leicester joined English football’s elite

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August 6, 2021
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    Leicester chairman Aiyawatt SrivaddhanaprabhaLeicester won the FA Cup for the first time when they beat Chelsea in May

    Leicester City winning the Premier League in 2016 will go down in history as one of the most remarkable feats in English football.

    However, the sheer scale of that astonishing achievement notwithstanding, what is happening to the Foxes now is arguably bigger, and certainly more sustainable.

    Brendan Rodgers' side will appear in their second Community Shield in six seasons when they play Manchester City at Wembley on Saturday. Only City themselves have been in more in that time.

    They do so after winning the FA Cup for the first time in their history and off the back of a campaign when they secured a second successive top-five finish for the first time in almost 100 years.

    They have never finished in the top five in three consecutive top-flight seasons.

    Leicester have every right to say they are currently among the elite of the English game. So how have they got there?

    The King Power revolution

    Of all the pictures taken of the Leicester contingent on the Wembley pitch as they celebrated their FA Cup triumph over Chelsea in May – after four previous defeats – one stands out.

    It is of chairman Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha – Top as he is known at the club – eyes closed, head down, cuddling the famous trophy that now resides at the King Power Stadium.

    His family, through their King Power brand and the vision of his father, Vichai – tragically killed in October 2018 when the helicopter in which he was leaving the stadium crashed during take-off – have been responsible for Leicester's amazing reversal in fortune from their relegation to League One in 2008.

    Not that they tend to boast about it – interviews with the Leicester hierarchy are rare.

    "They are actually a quiet, intimate club," says one source, who knows Leicester well. "Maybe that is the story. The enigma of Leicester City and how they have managed to push the envelope of the top four by keeping quiet.

    "When the chairman went on the pitch at Wembley, it was obvious the players adore him. Where does that come from? It doesn't come from having people in the media saying 'we are going to win the Premier League'."

    Leicester spent £95m on a new training ground near Seagrave, a few miles north of the city. It boasts, among other things, 14 full-sized pitches, a 500-seat floodlit 'stadium', gym and hydrotherapy facilities, and a nine-hole golf course. In addition, there are 30 hotel rooms that can be used in the gap between double training sessions during pre-season, or for overnight stays to cut down on travelling time or for some vital pre-match rest.

    There is also a media facility, which should be used for news conferences. Continuing restrictions mean it has not been needed for its main use – and the plan to invite guests round is on hold.

    Last month, Leicester announced plans to increase the capacity at the King Power Stadium to 40,000.

    Avoid going 'soft'

    The plan is to keep going forward.

    Since September 2019, Leicester have spent all but four Premier League match rounds in the top four. Sadly for them, the four were the final two games of the past two seasons, meaning they failed to qualify for the Champions League.

    In 2019, Tottenham had the sixth highest turnover in the top flight. But their £381m dwarfed Leicester's £159m.

    Every year since they won the title in 2016, Leicester have sold at least one of their biggest names, including Riyad Mahrez, Harry Maguire and Ben Chilwell. So far this summer, they have sold no-one of note, despite lots of rumours around playmaker James Maddison.

    "I don't lose sleep over gossip and speculation," said Rodgers in the build-up to the City game. "It's the nature of this time of the season."

    Rodgers has other matters at the forefront of his mind.

    In dismissing the overtures of Tottenham at the start of the summer, the Northern Irishman was committing himself to a project that evidently – while in its infancy – is showing a lot of promise.

    "I came in two and a half years ago and have loved every second," he said.

    "But we want to continue striving. That's important because you can very easily become comfortable. Success can soften you. You might win the FA Cup but before you know it you're 10 games into the following season and wondering what's happened."

    Rodgers is said by some to have been has been scarred by his experience at Liverpool, when he took them so close to winning the Premier League in 2014, only for Steven Gerrard to slip at the wrong time and hand the title to Manchester City.

    But the former Chelsea coach has restored his reputation, first with Celtic and now at Leicester – to the extent many now regard Rodgers as the best current UK-born coach.

    "I still keep very close to some of the boys and they say he is brilliant with the way he works with the youngsters; how he develops their game and the questions he poses," says former Leicester player and development coach Matt Piper, who works as a summariser for BBC Radio Leicester.

    "He has big ambition. I know that. Brendan is a really nice guy but has a little bit of arrogance, which is a good thing. He truly believes he is a top coach who could go and win the Premier League, with the right team and squad."

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