This coming Saturday, Anthony Knockaert will make his return to the King Power stadium. This seems like a good time to remember his contributions during his three years in the East Midlands. I know what you're thinking. I'm thinking about it too, but please, for the next few minutes, I ask you to try to put That Game out of your mind. There's so much more to the Frenchman's time with Leicester than that.
We signed him as a relatively unknown 21-year-old from Ligue 2 side Guingamp in 2012 and he went straight into the side, featuring in 42 league matches during the 2012-13 campaign. He scored 8 goals in the Championship and they weren't exactly tap-ins, either. His brace against Huddersfield was, to my untrained eye, the most impressive pair of goals scored by any City player over the last 20 years.
Apologies for the poor quality of the video. The quality of the goals more than makes up for it.
Go ahead, watch those goals again. I’ll wait.
It was Knockaert's late goal against Nottingham Forest on the last day of the season that lifted the Foxes from 8th on the table to the last playoff spot. We fell just short of a return to the top flight, but without the French U21 international's impressive range of passing, magical dribbling, and ability to score from (literally) any angle, we wouldn't have even been in the hunt.
The little winger played in 42 league matches again in 2013-14, a year in which Leicester City absolutely dominated the League Championship. His contributions weren't quite as memorable as those of the previous year, but he chipped in with 5 more league goals while City won 27 of their 46 matches and finished with 102 points in the league.
It will be nice to be back to Leicester tomorrow ... had a great time there and some… https://t.co/0Y7KwRF6Ns— Anthony Knockaert (@AKnockaert) August 18, 2017
Manager Nigel Pearson insisted on defensive contribution, discipline, and work rate from his players. While no one questioned the former Guingamp man's effort, he struggled with his defensive duties and was prone to the occasional rash challenge. In January of 2014, Leicester scout Steve Walsh uncovered another winger in France's Ligue 2 in the person of Riyad Mahrez.
Pearson felt that the Algerian’s pace was better suited to playing in the Premiership, so the 2014-15 campaign was a difficult one for Leicester’s #24. He found himself relegated to the bench and later to the reserves. Still only twenty-four years old, Knockaert’s career with City was over and he moved on to Standard Liege.
You probably know the rest: After less than a year on the continent, he returned to then-Championship side Brighton & Hove Albion. The south coast air evidently agreed with him, as the Frenchman led the Seagulls to promotion the following term, winning the Player of the Year award and knocking in 15 goals.
The success Knockaert enjoyed with Leicester was only a small part of why I’m so looking forward to seeing him again on Saturday. It’s wasn’t just how well he played, it was how he played. The little wizard possessed more flair than any of the big-name players Sven-Göran Eriksson brought in during his (thankfully brief) tenure as manager. Every time he was on the ball, you had the sense that something special could happen. It wasn’t always good, but it was always special.
I even miss listening to Alan Young and Ian Stringer argue about how to pronounce his name. I’ve never been convinced either of them quite got it, but it was a lot of fun listening to them try. Everything about the Brighton man is fun, at least from the fan’s standpoint. I hope he does well at the Falmer...er, “American Express Community Stadium.” I wish we’d given him a little more time to settle in, and, apparently, I’m not the only one...
So, here’s hoping that we get to see some of that magic on display at the King Power on Saturday, although here’s hoping even harder that it’s in a losing cause.