"I jump into a sand pit for a living"
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Jonathan Northcroft, London, Headline 2016. ISBN 978 1 4722 4162 7The book describes all 38 of Leicester City’s Premier League games last season, which contributed to their Premier League win. That is interspersed with interviews, features and analysis of things that explain the team’s success. Several players, notably Andy King, are quoted extensively. There is a list of Kanté jokes – my favourite being: Leicester play three in midfield. Drinkwater in the middle and Kanté on both sides of him!
The Leicester story is perhaps summed up in the author’s phrase “it shouldn‘t work but it does”. Five main factors are identified.
The fact that the players like each other and are friends comes out clearly. As Andy King puts it “good footballers but great people”, or as Danny Drinkwater says people who: “properly care about each other’s lives.” King refers to “a lot of sour grapes around the training ground” under previous managers among players who were not in the team but adds that there is now none of that. The players too were happy to interact with the fans. King says that the number of requests for selfies and aurographs rose dramatically adding of the players’ attitude: “It’s not a hassle for anyone”.
The backroom staff
That three of the key players, Wes Morgan, Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy were picked up cheap is a massive tribute to the scouting system. Leicester’s sports science staff are described as “logical, analytical, strategic”. Leicester did detailed prep for every game.
The author suggests that the University of Leicester motto, “Elite without being Elitist” is a perfect fit for Ranieri. Ranieri’s own secret is: “I always thought the most important thing a good coach must do is to build the team around the characteristics of his players.” The book says – something that Andy King confirmed in an interview with me – that Ranieri changed very little and kept the backroom staff. Nigel Pearson’s contribution should not be overlooked as the books says that the previous manager’s gift to Ranieri was “a team, and a team behind the team and a culture”.
The book speaks of “a golden thread of trust” in the club, with the manager trusting his sports science team, the sports scientists trusting the players and the players trusting each other. There is a story of Ranieri allowing the players a few days off and trusting them to do some training.
The book includes a chapter which analyses the Leicester City tactics. Riyad Mahrez is quoted as: “We stay solid and counterattack”. However it is more complex than that! One example: “Fuchs supported Albrighton a lot so Leicester would have quantitative superiority on the left. But Mahrez is pure qualitative superiority: better than the opposition one-on-one, so on the right Simpson stayed back and it was about leaving Mahrez space and getting him the ball”.
Two other points of relevance to the interests of Verité Sport. The book says that servant leadership was developed by the American management thinker, Robert K. Greenleaf. There I was thinking it was Jesus. The book also says that Leicester City grew out of Leicester Fosse, formed by friends from a Bible class.
Leicester City achievement was a phenomenal story. Jonathan Northcroft tells the story well in a very readable book.