Following a disappointing final position in the Championship, it’s time for Leicester to look ahead and write off the last season as a team rebuilding exercise. The Foxes have a great foundation to end their long wait for a Premier League return, despite senseless spending of close to £15m last year.
Being a life-long frustrated fan, the ‘there’s always next season’ mentality doesn’t justify the heavy investment we’ve had in recent years; Leicester need to address their imperfections promptly, especially with Financial Fair Play rules kicking in.
Shrewd summer acquisitions and improving on discipline, consistency and patience are essential to ensure Leicester don’t stagnate any longer.
City have already signed Jamie Vardy, top goal-scorer in the Blue Square Premier for Fleetwood Town, along with ex-Manchester United pair Ritchie De Laet and Matty James. The key focus now is adding experienced heads to the squad.
Experience: We have Paul Konchesky, Wes Morgan and Richie Wellens, but none of them hold a significant influence over a young squad. Emile Heskey, the former Leicester hero, fits the bill perfectly. Although now considered a bit of a joke due to his poor goal-scoring credentials, not only would he give a massive boost to fans and the team, but he would also provide a target man option; something City lack in Jermaine Beckford and David Nugent. Leicester have supposedy offered Heskey a one-year-contract. Another possible signing is Julien Faubert, recently released by West Ham, who could provide much-needed experience at right-back, considering Lee Peltier has only played one full season above League One.
Wingers: Lloyd Dyer possesses a vast amount of pace, but infuriatingly lacks an end product, while Paul Gallagher brings the occasional glamour performance but is often carried by the rest of the team. On the left, Leeds skipper Robert Snodgrass, who is entering the final 12 months of his contract, would bring consistency and technical ability, having accumulated 13 goals and 15 assists from 43 appearances last season. Nigel Pearson would have to put together a hefty transfer package to tempt Neil Warnock to sell, but it would be a smart investment for a 24-year-old worthy of playing in the Premier League. Birmingham’s Chris Burke would also bring in the pace and width that Gallagher lacks on the right, with the Scot raking in 13 goals and 17 assists from 48 games in the campaign just gone. Considering Birmingham failed to get promoted at the first time of asking, and with rumours circulating that Chris Hughton could leave for West Brom, perhaps Burke would be tempted to move.
Defensive midfielder: Leicester have box-to-box midfielders in abundance in the likes of Danny Drinkwater, Ben Marshall and Andy King, but crave a ball-winning player in the centre of the pitch. Sol Bamba, a centre-back, was tested there at the end of last season but never really adapted to the role thanks to his clumsy passing. Aron Gunnarsson of Cardiff City ticks all the boxes for a defensive midfielder and with his long throws he is known as the Rory Delap of the Championship. Leicester have never had this direct threat and it’s something every team struggles to defend against, especially if Heskey’s big head was on the receiving end.
Out-of-favour Darius Vassell and injury-plagued Aleksander Tunchev are the biggest names of six to leave the King Power Stadium already; so there’s no one player that urgently needs to go, but there are players Leicester can do without.
Matt Mills could never live up to his £5million transfer fee from Reading, and despite being given the captain’s armband, he didn't settle into the team. His maddening long balls never worked due to the lack of physical presence up front, while his needless fouls cost the team many a goal. It took a new manager in Nigel Pearson to mix things up halfway through the season and he eventually discovered that Mills was the weak link in the back four. Leeds have been interested in the central defender, but due to his high wages any move might be just a loan spell. Or a possible exchange for Snodgrass could be mooted.
Richie Wellens, despite appearing 41 times last season, was showing his age in terms of fitness. There’s no questioning his work ethic, but the midfielder doesn’t offer much in attack or defence and I think for Leicester to progress, we need a definitive mentality for each position. One goes forward and one holds back, it’s basic Sunday league stuff. Again, Leeds are reported to be interested in the 32-year-old midfielder, as they are still looking for a replacement for Jonny Howson.
Discipline / Professionalism
Last season Leicester conceded the most penalties (ten) and red cards (nine) in the Championship and picked up 65 yellows; with Matt Mills and Neil Danns both receiving two reds. Compare that to the 2009/10 season with Nigel Pearson in his first spell at the club; 2 penalties, 3 reds and 57 yellows. It's clear the manager will re-establish the team’s self-control, which is vital for a promotion push.
Mills’ red cards at Birmingham and Hull cost Leicester six points against two teams competing for promotion, and both went on to finish above us. Red cards for Beckford and Danns led to a defeat against Brighton, who ended up level on points with City; these being just a handful of games that upset City’s chances of making the play-offs, due to a lack of discipline.
If the Foxes are to contend for automatic promotion, they simply cannot afford silly, avoidable mistakes; Kasper Schmeichel was shown a second yellow for throwing the ball away in a sulk against Nottingham Forest and it cost the team a 2-0 lead. At the moment, it’s a bunch of individuals playing for themselves, and the lack of discipline is worryingly unprofessional.
Consistency In Formation
With pre-season nearly upon us, it’s time to build a solid first team, as last season was too much of an experiment with constant squad rotation.
The first four friendlies against Hinckley, Shrewsbury, Burton and Lincoln should be enough time to find a working team, while the fifth and biggest friendly versus Sunderland will be a good trial for the first XI. Maybe Pearson can learn a thing or two from City's former messiah, Martin O’Neill.
Last season there was actually too much depth as Sven wanted two players for every position. I’m all for players fighting for their positions, but it says something that only Schmeichel was safe every week.
Because of this, the players weren’t given enough time to prove themselves or get used to each other, which wasn't conducive to building a new team. No-one knew their specific role and it lead to confusion on the pitch; for example, Sol Bamba’s positioning left the defence vulnerable as he often helped out in midfield due lack of organisation in the centre. We ended up with players fighting for a place instead of three valuable points.
Leicester need to utilise the best team for league games and save the rotation for injuries or cup games; last season we rotated against teams like Barnsley and Watford, but we were simply not good enough to do that and they punished us.
This goes for the management, owners, players and fans. You have to remember, investment doesn’t automatically gain you success; it just helps you achieve it quicker.
Last season there was a lot of pressure on the players as they were the bookies’ favourites to be Champions. This season, they’ve been made outright favourites again at 6/1, but as it’s not a team of strangers this time round, they should be able to live up to the expectations. Of course, there is still plenty of pressure on the players, but they now understand the challenge that awaits. However, the team need be patient with each other to find the right balance, and Pearson needs to be forgiving with the players for that to happen. Throw in the added pressure of fighting for a first-team spot and we have to be careful not to end up back at square one.
As for the owners, bringing in a new manager is not a long-term or short-term solution to fixing an underachieving team; it needs stability and time to turn Leicester into a competitive club. Pearson has previously managed the Foxes to promotion from League One and finished in the Championship play-offs the following season, so he is more than capable of achieving the owners' wishes with a team he can mould. Sven Goran Eriksson was given only 13 league matches and was sacked when the team were just three points off a play-off spot; I admire Mr. Raksriaksorn’s ambitions, but I was content at that point and if anything the negativity rubbed off badly on the players.
This season has to be different and with the infrastructure already in place, a bit of fine tuning should see City challenging at the top of the league.
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