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Leicester City fan with invitation Newcastle United shouldn’t reject

10 months ago
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Leicester City and I go back a long way.

Most of the memories are pretty happy: Supermac’s screamer nearly ripping the net off the goal-frame at the Leazes End; Alan Shearer’s 13-minute hat-trick in February 1997 overturning a 3-1 deficit; and United roaring into a 4-0 lead at the King Power only 24 months ago.

That relatively recent win, barely tarnished by the concession of two late, late goals, was sweet revenge for the New Year’s Day massacre of 2020, when a combination of bad luck and worse management allowed the Foxes to stroll away from St James’ Park with three points after a 3-0 win.

Enough memories to last a lifetime.

And I’ll be hoping for something special next Monday, in a match that might deliver the guarantee of Champions League football, ending a hiatus that has lasted a generation. Perhaps something as special as the 7-1 thrashing we handed them in May 1993 to herald our return to the top flight and our arrival in the brave new world of the Premiership.

The American statesman and polymath Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) is credited with saying: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

As snappy quotes go, it’s up there with the very best, as Big Fat Sham might say.

From what we have seen from Eddie Howe and Co since they arrived in November 2021, our current management are big fans of Big Ben.

But perhaps they have missed something. Will the imminent visit of Leicester City destroy our hopes and dreams? Does danger lurk unseen in a team who have accumulated only 30 points from 36 matches? In short, are they as bad as the Premier League table tells us?

Seeking reassurance, I consulted my good friend Mr Dave Simpson, who as a Leicester City fan has watched them since the early Sixties.

Unlike most of the rentagobs on TV and radio, Dave speaks from a position of some authority and a lot of perspective.

This is what he said before last night’s woeful display against Liverpool:

“I have been up to the KP for 11 matches this season and only seen us play well twice. Most of the other performances have been dire.

“I can’t see us getting any more points unless our defence suddenly makes a rapid improvement, which seems highly unlikely. Your forwards will probably have a field day against us at SJP, so I’m sure you will have a good evening, while I will be hiding behind the sofa.”

Before you assume Dave is a fair-weather Leicester City fan, please note, he lives near Taunton. Each home match involves a round trip of nearly 350 miles.

Digging a little deeper, I asked how highly he rated the oft-touted James Maddison, a player many of our fans seem to covet and who, at 26, is probably at his peak.

“Maddison is certainly Leicester’s most talented player. He’s better than Harvey Barnes, who can be good but blows hot and cold, seemingly lacking the nous to adapt his game when things don’t go to plan. Youri Tielemans was consistently good for about three seasons but his form dipped last season and this season he has been consistently poor.

“Maddison is at his best when played centrally as a number 10; he’s less effective when he’s put on the right or left but will always put in a shift. He’s not especially quick but he’s good at keeping possession and he can spot a killer pass, so gets a lot of assists, often creating chances for Jamie Vardy.

“He tends to fall over a lot (a bit like Jack Grealish) and he’s good at free kicks. This can be productive, depending on the ref. He’s a good finisher and usually gets about 10 goals a season, as well as the assists. I would expect him to be joining a top six club next season.

“Weaknesses: if played on the right he tends to drop too deep and then his passing is much less effective and he can get caught in possession. He’s surprisingly poor at taking corners.

“He gets fouled a lot, so will miss matches through injury. I wouldn’t describe him as injury-prone but defenders do like to kick him, so I think he probably misses about 20% of the matches, although I haven’t checked the stats.”

Having been accused more than once of stating the bleedin’ obvious, I found Dave’s insight, well, insightful. Maddison was signed in the summer of 2018 for £22.5m from Norwich City and has since started 143 Premier League games, with 18 appearances from the bench. Last night’s defeat at the King Power would have been his 188th start for Leicester if he had been ever-present.

And on the subject of appearances, I asked Dave whether the exit of Kasper Schmeichel had been a big factor in the club’s demise. The response didn’t disappoint, unlike the team.

“Schmeichel’s departure may have contributed to our poor season but not necessarily in the way you think.

“He clearly fell out with Brendan Rodgers, who dropped him after he had made 149 consecutive PL appearances. It was the third-last game of the season, with nothing riding on it, so there was no good reason to drop him other than to stop him reaching the milestone of 150.

“We won 5-1 at Watford and Schmeichel was reinstated for the final two games. With hindsight it all seems most bizarre.

“He was a leader in the team and popular in the dressing room, so I think other players were probably unimpressed with BR’s behaviour. Certainly, this season it was clear that several players were not performing for BR and he was publicly critical of the owners and fans, which didn’t seem a sensible move. I honestly think BR went into a sulk early on in the season and was hoping to get sacked, so he could trouser a big payoff and then move to another PL club.

“The owners wouldn’t play ball and, in the end, left it far too late to sack him. The whole of this season has been a mess of mismanagement throughout the club hierarchy. The squad we have should have been comfortably capable of finishing in mid-table if the players had been properly motivated and if BR had not ostracised players who annoyed him. It has been a real s*** show and I don’t think the club is in any way prepared for how to deal with relegation.”

There you have it. Leicester City should be at least mid-table.

If they had been, with only professional pride at stake, our final home game of the season might have been a little less stressful. Instead, we should expect them to be fighting for survival, regardless of their rudderless showing against Liverpool. At Elland Road last Saturday we all saw how desperation can galvanise the opposition.

Time to fess up: I have a soft spot for the Foxes. This is partly because we tend to beat them quite often, partly because they proved only seven seasons ago that the seemingly impossible can come true.

And partly because Dave’s a good bloke.

This is how he signed off from Somerset after delivering his damning verdict:

“I will still be going to the matches next season. Enjoy the Champions League!”

Now, there’s an invitation we shouldn’t reject.

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