Monday 24 October 2016

Hungry Leicester City are living the high life

Jamie Vardy has been in superb goal-scoring form for Leicester City this season
Jamie Vardy has been in superb goal-scoring form for Leicester City this season

It must be wonderful to be a Leicester City players or supporter right now. They are living through moments they never expected and that makes their unlikely rise to the top of the Premier League all the more enjoyable.

Leicester's success this season reflects the state of the Premier League, English football generally and feeds into the wider debate about producing local talent.

It also reflects well on Nigel Pearson, who must be enduring slow torture while he watches Claudio Ranieri make such a good job of improving the squad he constructed.

He is an eccentric, Pearson, with some odd character traits, but ultimately, he lost his job because of his son's awful behaviour in Thailand. The work he did with Leicester was clearly very good.

But Ranieri has taken it on and improved the team, there is no doubt about that.

His personality obviously fits the club perfectly and while Pearson's time was speckled with controversy, Ranieri has brought stability.

He has always been a likeable man and he left a good impression during his time with Chelsea. But he is also a very good coach and the evidence for that is now there to see.

Not exceptional

By no stretch of the imagination could Leicester's squad or football be described as exceptional.

But they make the most of what they've got and work really well as a unit. They do try to get the ball down and play and I think that is a legacy of Pearson's vision.

Of course, Leicester also have the hottest striker in the Premier League. Jamie Vardy has gone from nowhere to England's best striker in a very short space of time.

By doing that, he is now a poster boy for what I have no doubt is a group of talented footballers from these islands who have been squeezed out by the fashion for buying abroad and are forced to ply their trade in the lower divisions.

I'm not talking about the big marquee signings clubs like Manchester United and Chelsea make, but the mid-range salaries and transfer fees which smaller clubs can now afford.

Vardy is well into his career but managed to stay below the radar until now. Ten or twenty years ago, he would have been scouted and signed by a big club.

Sure, some lads fall through the cracks because of their attitude or injuries or any one of a hundred other reasons. But this is a hungry footballer and that doesn't happen overnight.

I don't know how many lads like Vardy are out there but I'll bet there's more than we see in the Premier League and if he does nothing else, perhaps he will refocus minds on the local talent pool.

There is no experience like the one Leicester are having at the moment. I remember my first season at Leeds in 1964/65 after the club was promoted and ran Manchester United, Busby Babes and all, close for the title. We reached the FA Cup final too.

In circumstances like that, there's no great thinking or analysis done. That can even be counter-productive.

After the initial few months in the top division, we had enough points to forget about the possibility of relegation and young, hungry players could do their stuff without any fear.

You get into a rhythm of winning and you stop wondering why you're on such a great run and just play.

That's what Leicester and Vardy are doing right now and it's marvellous to watch. In the coming weeks, they will be fully tested.

They play all the big guns, beginning with Manchester United on Saturday. Then, they have Everton, Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City which will bring them right up to the holiday period.

So far, the only really negative result which stands out in Leicester's run is the 5-2 home defeat by Arsenal and it will be very interesting to see how they fare when some pressure comes on.

Funnily enough, I think they'll do pretty well because I don't see anything in the top teams this season to make me think that this will be anything other than a wide open title chase.

Leicester are in a place when they almost have enough points to be safe should the wheels fall off and they can really give these big games a right go.

Don't be surprised if they are still in the mix at the top of the table when the dust settles on the frantic Christmas fixture schedule.

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