What was the defining feature of the close season that is rapidly coming to a close? For me, it was the complete lack of drama and distraction we saw over the last two years: No managerial sackings, no youth squad scandals, no media spotlight on “the greatest miracle in sporting history*,” no world tours under the spotlight, nor anything that made the front or back pages of the papers.
Hallelujah for all of that.
Watching the run up to the 2016/17 season, I had a nagging feeling that we weren’t properly preparing ourselves. Flying across the globe, playing in a high-profile tournament that no one truly cares about, the team looked out of sorts from day one. One got the sense that we had spent then entire summer being champions instead of preparing to defend that championship.
Losing to Hull on the first day of the season was not only unsurprising; it was inevitable (and richly deserved.) There is nothing more frustrating to me than seeing a player standing over the ball, arms outstretched, begging his teammates to make themselves available for a pass. That’s the sign of a team that isn’t on the same page with their manager’s tactics and isn’t playing together as a cohesive unit.
This summer couldn’t have been more different. Obviously, “not winning the league a second time” took the spotlight away from the King Power, but there’s more to it than just that. The club has gone about their business quietly, efficiently, and effectively. Harry Maguire was brought in quickly to settle the defense. The Iheanacho transfer dragged on for ages, but it was never really in doubt and was handled without a lot of fuss.
The closest thing we’ve had to a drama has been the ongoing saga of Riyad Mahrez’ still-probable departure. Even though one of the club’s top players has requested a transfer, there’s been a refreshing lack of acrimony. He’s asked to leave, the club is clearly willing to accommodate him, it’s all down to finding the right destination at the right price. All you have to do is follow the Alexis situation at Arsenal to see how badly it could have gone.
After a brief jaunt to Hong Kong, the pre-season slate of games were, for the most part, largely uneventful. The players put in their work, stayed healthy, and when the final friendly rolled around, they performed exactly like you’d expect Leicester City to perform. Against quality Bundesliga competition, the goalkeeping was sharp, the defenders threw their bodies in front of shots, the midfield defended deep and shifted quickly into attack whenever the ball was won, and the strikers ran the channels and made life miserable for Gladbach.
Just skip to 3:35 in the video. James wins the ball deep in his own half, slides a pass to Mahrez on the right, who lays a perfect through ball in the path of Iheanacho. The Nigerian draws the defenders and the keeper to himself, slips the ball to an unmarked Vardy and, twelve seconds after winning the ball, it’s in the back of the net. That is Leicester City football and it’s something we never saw during the build up to last season.
The media seem to have no great interest in Craig Shakespeare, and that seems to suit our manager just fine. Taking away nothing from either man, Shakespeare will never be the media darling Claudio Ranieri was. He gives the impression that he would rather be on the practice pitch, getting the work done and the tactics right, than sitting in front of a dozen microphones and speaking to the press.
Like the gaffer, the club looks focused on football first. They have eschewed the bright lights, kept their heads down, done the work, and they look ready to begin the season in less than 48 hours.
This is all a long way of saying that this has not been the most newsworthy summer in the our neck of the East Midlands, and that is a very good thing. We have been short on drama but we’ve ticked almost every box you’d want: Fitness levels are good, few injuries, weaknesses addressed, no obvious internal strife, no controversies, and everything coming together in the final friendly. It has been, very quietly, an excellent summer for the Foxes.
*Not that I would mind another one of those, say, this year.