There’s no football right now.
I suppose you could argue that this isn’t the time to be discussing football and that all of football-related energy should be directed towards hoping that players and fans struck by COVID-19 have a speedy recovery. I understand that point of view.
But, I simply can’t restrict myself to thinking about nothing other than a pandemic. Football may not be “important” now, but honestly? Is it ever “important”? That’s part of the joy for me: I can be emotionally invested in a sporting event taking place in a country I’ve never visited with full knowledge that none of it really matters. That’s part of what I love about the sport.
So, no: I’m not going to talk about the virus and encourage you to wash your hands and not to sneeze on your gran or any of that. There are plenty of other places where you can get that information if you haven’t been bombarded with it already. I’m going to talk about football. I’m going to talk about Leicester City. And, for the few hours it takes me to write this piece, I’m going to think of nothing but my club and I’m going to really enjoy it. I hope you enjoy reading it as well.
Now, with that out of the way, let’s get down to business. I’ve been supporting Leicester since 1997, so only players who’ve been with Leicester from then until the present are eligible. Living in the U.S., there are some players I only saw play in cup matches or against larger opponents, but I’ve listened to almost every match on BBC Radio Leicester, so unless the commentators were fibbing, I have enough information to have opinions on these players.
The first item on the agenda is to select the formation. Should we go with the 3-5-2 of the Martin O’Neill era, Claudio’s 4-4-1-1, or Rodgers’ 4-1-4-1/4-3-3? You can make an argument for any of them. While I’m loathe to pick a formation that doesn’t have an out-and-out defensive midfielder due to the embarrassment of riches we’ve had at the position, I think a 4-4-2 is probably the best compromise.
There are essentially three considerations when it comes to selecting players:
- How good were they?
- How long were they here?
- How much did I love watching them play?
The first two lend a patina of objectivity to the list, but make no mistake, this is a highly subjective list and I wouldn’t have it any other way. If you want the best starting XI, there are statistical sites and knowledgeable pundits who’ll be happy to weigh in. This is my list, so it’s heavily flavored by my biases.
Here we go!
Goalkeeper: Kasper Schmeichel
It will probably not be a huge shock to anyone reading this that there are going to be quite a few of the 2015/16 champions on this list. To be honest, the Dane’s length of service and on-the-pitch leadership would make him my pick even if he weren’t a champion. We’ve had a eight years of not having to worry about who will get the #1 shirt and that puts him head and shoulders above the competition.
Right Back: Ricardo Pereira
His tenure at Leicester is the shortest of all of my all-time team, but he makes up for by being the best right back in the world. I don’t know what more needs to be said, but that’s never stopped me, has it? The former Porto man is a force going forward and absolutely aces at winning the ball back. No one else comes close to matching Ricardo at both ends of the pitch.
Center Half: Matt Elliott
The Martin O’Neill back three were a force and all of them would be good choices, but Elliott gets the nod from me because Washie was nearing the end of his run by the time I started following Leicester in 1997. Matt McElliott (so named because he played internationally for Scotland) was a threat at both ends of the pitch, scoring 26 goals for the Foxes including a memorable brace against Tranmere in the League Cup final.
Center Half: Wes Morgan
You’d think that playing every minute of every match in a league-winning campaign would be enough to get you into my all-time XI and you’d be right. Very much a “lead by example” captain, most of my memories of Morgan involve him throwing himself in front of a shot...and then another...and then another. Morgan would do literally anything, including the odd tug of the jersey, to keep the ball out of the net, and I love him for it.
Left Back: Christian Fuchs
Because Leicester played with 3 at the back for many years, there’s not a lot of competition at this position. That’s not meant to take anything away from Fuchs, who is the epitome of “classy.” He may have been past his best by the time he came to the East Midlands, but he was always incredibly solid, steady, and technically one of the best players I’ve ever seen in a Leicester shirt. Bonus points for the through-ball from the right wing to set up Vardy his record-setting goal.
Seriously, how did it get that bend on the pass?
Right midfielder: Riyad Mahrez
Mahrez is simply one of the best players ever to grace this club. Yes, he could be inconsistent and his exit could have been more graceful, but what a player he was for us. He could do things that no one else in the league, maybe even the world, could do and we wouldn’t have that trophy without him. Quite possibly the best Leicester player I’ve ever seen.
Central midfielder: Andy King
People who haven’t been following Leicester very long may think this is a joke, but Andy King was our Frank Lampard when he first broke into the first team. His late runs into the box and thunderbolt shots from distance were beauties to behold. He scored 55 goals for the club, but he wasn’t a one-trick pony. He was a weekly man-of-the-match pick by Alan Young for his workrate, defense, and unselfishness. Kingy’s a legend for a reason, even if most of those reasons occurred before people started noticing.
Legend, unlike the quality of the video here.
Central midfielder: Muzzy Izzet
As with the back three, any of the O’Neill central midfielders have good arguments for inclusion. But, Robbie Savage has turned his back on the club and Muzzy was my first favorite Fox, so there you have it. The Mile End-born Turkish international was always capable of producing the kind of magic that you wouldn’t have associated with Leicester back in the day and he was still one of the toughest tacklers in the league (behind Neil Lennon, of course).
Lilian Nalis, is that you?
Left midfielder: Marc Albrighton
This was a close one because we’ve had a glut of talent at this position. Ultimately, the completeness of Albrighton’s game and the fact that he will play whatever role his manager asks gives him the edge. Ideally, he’s a line-hugging right midfielder, but he can cut in from the left with almost equal effectiveness now. Oh, and he scored a couple of pretty important goals for us in the Champions League as well.
Striker: Emile Heskey
Heskey was the perfect combination of power and pace and, on his day, he was absolutely unplayable. He was held back only by having a sort of Heisenberg-Uncertainty-Principle first touch: the more you know about where the ball would go, the less you know about how heavy the touch was, and vice-versa. Still, he was an unbelievable force who could single-handedly overwhelm a defense and was so good that I don’t even begrudge him going to Liverpool.
Striker: Jamie Vardy
It was always going to end with Vardy, wasn’t it? A surprising number of the Premier League’s top scorers have plied their trade with Leicester: Stan Collymore, Dion Dublin, Les Ferdinand, Yakubu, and Ade Akinbiyi. But it’s Vardy, who was described by Alan Shearer as “not a natural scorer”, who gets to lead the line. He seems to be driven by pure spite at times, but in the best possible way.
He’s made himself into a complete striker, capable of beating you in incredible, almost impossible ways. The goal against Liverpool, the West Brom strike, the other West Brom goal, that ridiculous chip against Spurs...I don’t even need to link them, do I? You remember them because they were just. that. special.
Manager: Claudio Ranieri
With all due respect to Brendan Rodgers, Nigel Pearson, and, um, Peter Taylor, there are really only two options here: Martin O’Neill and Claudio Ranieri. O’Neill did amazing work with less than world class talent, finishing in the top half of the table year after year and winning two League Cups.
But Claudio? He didn’t exactly have a world of resources to deploy either and he took a club that he just escaped relegation the year before, had lost their manager under bizarre circumstances, and cost less collectively than a Manchester City center-half, and led them to the unlikeliest of league titles. It was an absolutely clinic in man-management as the team somehow kept their calm and the supposedly-inevitable downturn simply never happened.
Kasey Keller (GK) - I was shocked to see an American in goal when I started following the Foxes. I was even more shocked by how good he was. We’ve had some marvelous goalkeepers in Ian Walker, Tim Flowers, and Peguy Arphexad, but they don’t often stick around, do they?
Steve Walsh (CB) - Matt Elliott’s partner-in-crime and an absolute force in both boxes. Perfectly suited to lead the hard-nosed MON Foxes.
Wilfred Ndidi (CM) - If we’d signed him when we lost Kante, Ranieri’s story may well have ended differently. The best ballhawk in the world.
Neil Lennon (CM) - The ginger Roy Keane. With Izzet, Savage, and especially Lennon in the center of the park, trying to play through the midfield was utterly pointless. Lennon was the backbone of one of the greatest midfields we’ve ever had.
Steve Guppy (RM) - With apologies to Mr. Albrighton, Gupps was the most accurate crosser this team has ever had. There wasn’t much else to his game, but when you have Emile Heskey to aim for, you didn’t need much more.
Matty Fryatt (ST) - A pity his career was derailed by injuries. Not even Shearer could claim this man wasn’t a natural goal scorer. Not much pace, strength, or height, but you got him the ball in the box, it was in the back of the net.
Tony Cottee (ST) - For some reason, Cottee was in Indonesia when the Foxes brought him back to England. Like Fryatt, he only needed the slightest sight of the goal to put one in. Perfect little-and-large partnership with Heskey, too.
So, that’s my squad. What do you think? Any favorites I’m missing (the answer is almost certainly “yes”)? Anyone who doesn’t belong. Leave your thoughts in the comments.