Monsieur Salut writes: Tim Burke* has Millwall connections and should perhaps be wearing a ‘you all hate us, we don’t care’ T-shirt. Instead, he fell in love with the Foxes after moving to Leicester and much of the footballing world fell in love with his adopted team in May. It was a season he enjoyed for a reason never experienced by a Sunderland supporter who was not alive in 1936. This season? Tim’s happy, even if tongue in cheek, to avoid the drop . Great attitude and great replies – and maybe he can take heart from Sunderland’s history; we won the FA Cup in the season following our last top flight title …
Salut! Sunderland: After last season’s fairytale, down to earth a little but avoiding a bumpy landing thanks to your CL exploits. Disappointed or pretty much as you expected?
Tim Burke: Very much what I, and I think most sensible Leicester fans, expected.
Many of us were saying we’d settle for avoiding a relegation struggle and qualifying for the last 16 in the Champions League. Well we’re half way there! I think we’ll be ok but it is getting a bit uncomfortable near the bottom. Those losses to West Brom and Watford were grim and the draw against the Boro had the whingers out in force for the first time in maybe 18 months.
You won the hearts of so many neutrals last season – I recall City being applauded from the pitch after you’d beaten us 2-0 at home and we were fighting relegation – but has the football been anywhere near as good this season?
No it’s not – we’ve had our moments but losing Kante has been the huge loss we thought it would be.
He constantly broke up the opposition play thereby protecting our back four and setting up our own forward momentum. Without that, the weaknesses of both have been exposed somewhat. More generally I think we just knew that it would be hard for players to maintain that same intensity. Of course in historic terms this is still a fantastic Leicester City side.
I saw a headline the other day along the lines of ‘Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez unstoppable 12 months ago; stats show their title-winning connection is now failing’. Discuss!
Well the difference is undeniable in statistical terms, though I don’t think either are playing that badly. Vardy is still a phenomenal athlete and his effort is undiminished. He’s lost a bit of confidence since his drought became a “thing”, but I don’t think there’s any fundamental problem there. Mahrez is scoring and assisting even if not at the extraordinary rate of last year. Considering his amazing season last year, I reckon he is undervalued by many Leicester fans who see him take the ball too far on occasions and a reluctance sometimes to pass – they take more notice of that than the extraordinary beauty of his running and ball skills.
Claudio Ranieri presumably still has the affections of the crowd; what should he be doing differently to improve Premier League results?
And where, if not already mentioned in previous replies, are the obvious weaknesses?
As Sixer captured the essentials of Leicester’s last visit to the Stadium of Light: https://safc.blog/2016/04/sixers-sevens-safc-0-2-leicester-city-couldnt-raise-our-game/
Claudio is safe for a while yet. I’d say the central midfield is the problem area – and Claudio was unlucky that we lost Nampalys Mendy, the Kante replacement to all intents, on the first game of the season, for several months. Claudio has been alternating the powerful Daniel Amartey and the more languid Andy King, but neither have totally convinced. Drinkwater runs the game nicely and is still looking for that trademark through ball for Vardy, but we’ve not been creating the same kind of space for him and the delivery has not been quite at the same level. We’ve now lost Drinkwater for three games through suspension and we sorely missed his passing against Boro. He’ll be missing against Sunderland too – our midfield cover is very thin. It’s a worry.
On the positive side, we like Islam Slimani, a big, powerful and – dare I say it to you lot? – Shearer-esque centre-forward and it’s a joy to see Shinji Okazaki starting to score more goals. His link up play in the opposition half is first-rate and his enthusiasm is infectious.
A good CL run, maybe another in the FA Cup and high mid table: would that satisfy you and how do you see the short-term future developing for Leicester?
Maybe I’m overly cautious but I’d settle for less than that this season. Obviously I hope we can push on from the success we’ve had but I’ve never felt this is the start of Leicester dynasty where we ascend to the status of the traditional big clubs. Short-term I just want to see us establish ourselves as a stable Premier League side who can aspire to the odd cup final and threaten sometimes for a European place. We did very well to hang on to the bulk of the side this year but they will start to go. Steve Walsh – the man behind most of best signings of recent years – has now left for Everton, but I hope our new found celebrity will help us attract quality replacements.
Recent results notwithstanding, do you feel Sunderland’s luck has finally run out or do those wins at Bournemouth and at home to Hull suggest another escape act (whatever happens at Anfield this weekend)?
It looks to me like you’ve turned a corner and have got some momentum. Obviously you’ve got to sort the defence out, but I see signs of that happening. Losing McNair must be a big blow though. Clearly if Defoe breaks a leg, then you could be back to square one. Moyes ability to recruit in the new year is going to be crucial.
Is there a single player you’d take from us?
Young Pickford looks the real deal. He might have to play second fiddle to Kaspar Schmeichel for a season or two, but I’m not too impressed with our current second string Ron-Robert Zieler, who will be playing at the Stadium of Light.
Any other thoughts on Sunderland – the club, the fans, the city and region, David Moyes?
I’ve been a couple of times to Sunderland and erm, well, it’s nicer than Teesside. That said, I love the North East and I really admire the passion for football up there. Despite the poisoned chalice he got at Manchester and the debacle in Spain, Moyes is clearly a good manager and I think he’ll do well for you eventually. It must be hard coming back from those experiences and I admire him for taking a tough job.
Too late to have a flutter on this game, of course, but check the odds comparison for future bets …
We’d all imagine last season was the best you’d seen as a Foxes fan: other memorable moments?
I’m a militant atheist but it’s hard to avoid thinking of last year as anything other than miraculous. None of us signed up for that. I just feel so lucky that it was at my club and in my lifetime that this incredible event happened. Indeed possibly the most emotional aspect was thinking of all the people who have loved the club right back to the days of Leicester Fosse but who didn’t get to to see it.
There was an old guy and his wife in our row who had been been coming for over 70 years and in the last couple of seasons he was clearly very frail. They finally had to give up at the start of last season and we heard he’d passed away in October 2015 – broke my heart that he never knew.
Previous to this my standout moment was winning the League Cup in 1997. This was at the height of the O’Neill years and we drew at Wembley against Boro with a late Heskey equaliser. There was a midweek replay at Hillsborough which we won with a goal from Steve Claridge – only the second time we’d ever won a proper trophy and the absolute height of our ambition. It took us two hours to get out of Sheffield but the party in the traffic jams was tremendous.
And the worst of times?
Relegation to the third tier for the first time in our history in 2007. It was a source of great pride that we’d never been below the second tier and it’s very hard to forgive Ian Holloway for allowing that season to drift away. I cried buckets at the full-time whistle against Stoke, the game which sent us down.
Greatest players you’ve seen or, from history, wish could been around to see in Leicester blue?
It was only for one season but Ngolo Kante is the best midfielder I’ve ever seen. I don’t know how his career will go from here but last year he was the perfect player at the perfect time. From history, I wish I’d seen Arthur Chandler, a gnarly, hob-nailed striker from the 30s who’s goal scoring feats are the stuff of legend (259 goals in 393 appearances).
And who should have been allowed nowhere near the colours?
Where do you start! Actually to pick one is not that difficult – Dennis Wise. We took him for a season after he left Chelsea and he was utterly disgraceful on the pitch and off. He broke Callum Davison’s jaw over a late-night card game and when the club disciplined him, he and his agent Eric Hall tried to sue us and put us into administration. (for evidence: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2002/oct/23/newsstory.sport2 ). The thought of him makes my flesh creep.
Fireworks after the last match at the old place. With thanks to Ian Johnson at Flickr
Do you ever miss Filbert Street?
Not really. Obviously it was a wrench leaving but fortunately the new stadium is only yards from where Filbo stood so all our matchday routines remained the same and that was important for me. By way of contrast, look at poor old Coventry fans stuck with a white elephant out by the motorway and which nearly killed the club. It takes a few years to lay down experiences at a new ground and for it to feel like home but obviously now the King Power is where the greatest events in our history happened.
Diving: a dead issue because so many players are at it (and other forms of cheating) or still worth trying to eradicate?
I think people get over-excited about it. Definitely the worst excesses should be punished, and severely, but “going down too easily” will always happen I fear.
Best ref, worst ref?
Jon Moss is not very welcome at Leicester. Towards the end of last season he totally lost control of our home game to West Ham – giving ludicrous penalties and sending off Jamie Vardy for, erm, “going down too easily”. We feared at the time he might have just derailed our push for the title, but the lads came back in the next game to beat Swansea 4-0 and the rest is history.
Clattenberg is the best by a distance.
One step the football authorities or your club might take to improve the to of the ordinary supporter?
We can get rid of 12.30 kick-offs for a start. Fixture planning should take into account fans – travelling fans in particular – rather TV schedules.
Will you be at our game? What will be the score?
Sadly I can’t afford to travel away these days – and with our current level of away support it’s hard to get tickets without having built up priority anyway. I think our dreadful away form has to click sooner or later – I’m going for 0-1 and Vardy to get going again.
* Tim Burke on himself: I’m 56 and freelance writer – mainly writing about restaurants and food these days. As a boy my uncle would take me to my closest club Millwall, but by 1970 that just got unpleasant. At university I would sometimes get down to Elm Park to watch Reading but it never got in my blood.
It wasn’t until I’d moved to Leicester and saw City in the days of Gary Lineker that I really got back into football. I was still a bit of a part-timer until the early the 90s, but apart from a spell when I lived in the USA for four months (in which time we got to a play-off final and were promoted to the Premier League) – I’ve barely missed a home game since.
Interview: Colin Randall