Let’s say that you’re a young footballer with dreams of playing in the top flight and representing England on the international stage. Perhaps you’re very young and looking to join a youth academy, or maybe you’re currently plying your trade in the Championship. Several of the top clubs are showing interest, but at the end of the day, for a player with your aspirations, there’s really only one choice, isn’t there? It has to be Leicester City.
No, seriously. Hear me out.
The King Power (and Holmes Park) have become a pipeline to the England senior and youth teams. James Maddison has been called up to the England senior squad, joining Ben Chilwell and Demarai Gray as young Foxes who have received their first call-up this year. Harry Maguire is a fixture in Gareth Southgate’s starting XI. Harvey Barnes joined the England U21 side for the first time this week as well.
City have had an eye for young talent for some time now, but it took bringing in manager Claude Puel to get that talent on the pitch on a regular basis. One of the French manager’s greatest strengths is his trust in young players. The best example of this is how he’s handled Ben Chilwell.
Chilwell had been in contention for the starting XI for a couple of years, but he found playing time hard to come by due to the fact that City already had (and have) a fine left back in the person of Christian Fuchs. Other teams were interesting in Chilwell (Liverpool, I’m looking at you) and it looked like Leicester were in danger of losing their academy product.
Enter one Claude Puel, who inserted Chilwell in the lineup almost immediately even though you could argue that Fuchs would have been the better option in the short term. Puel has also given Demarai Gray more time on the pitch and showed no hesitation signing James Maddison and inserting him in the starting lineup when other, more established players were available.
Madders looks set to fill the creative midfield role that England have struggled with for a generation. It may well be that his top competition for that role is Harvey Barnes, who is currently on loan at West Bromwich Albion. Barnes has emerged as one of the best players in the Championship at the tender age of 20, having scored 5 goals so far this term and assisting twice. He’s a natural winger who is thriving in the central attacking role at The Hawthorns.
Of course, it’s not just the manager. The club have made a massive commitment to building a foundation for finding top youth talent, but none of that means anything if the manager won’t deploy the players. If your goal is to play for your country, sitting on the bench at a so-called “top 6” club won’t do you as much good as playing regular football for the Foxes.
So criticize Puel’s tactics or results or weird thermal vests all you want, but that fact that he’s willing to play younger players and, as a result, that those players are finding themselves in contention for England, is a massive boost to the club. When it comes to recruiting, being able to point to Puel’s record could be the decisive factor for players who dream of playing for their country. Because, if they sign with Leicester City, there’s a good chance that dream will come true.