Monday 24 April 2017

Shakespeare learning on the job which should soon be his own

Leicester City star Jamie Vardy Photo: Steven Paston/PA Wire
Leicester City star Jamie Vardy Photo: Steven Paston/PA Wire

Miguel Delaney

It revealed much about just how new all this is to Leicester City's caretaker boss Craig Shakespeare that, when it came to doing his extra press conference for the Monday newspapers following his side's 3-1 win over Hull City, he initially went to walk away. He didn't know it was part of the gig - but he's very quickly learning.

Claudio Ranieri's former assistant and current stand-in was clearly well-briefed about what to say, as he gave nothing away about his expectations for a situation that almost everyone around Leicester believes will end with him getting the job, and was even impressively calculated with some of his comments on some of the smaller issues. The sidelining of the dismally under-performing Ahmed Musa was a case in point, as Shakespeare described it as "tactical" - even though the forward wasn't in the match-day squad.

The majority of that squad would like Shakespeare to be given the job until the end of the season, as he is a hugely popular figure, and one they are so clearly responding to. Nothing displays the success of his adjustment better than the fact he has been responsible for the champions winning two successive league games - and both by 3-1, with one of them over Liverpool - for the first time since April.

Adjustment

So, what has he thought about it? He may have made the job look easy so far, and the sense is that these wins and the performances have gone a long way to preventing any relegation battle, but has the adjustment been easy?

How different has it been, for someone so used to being the second in command? Has he felt any pressure - or is this an opportunity?

"I'm quite a calm person at times. I've tried to be measured in the things I've done because I think it's important for players to see that. They also need to see a bit of passion as well. But I didn't feel under pressure.

"I think the media side has surprised me in terms of the intensity and the amount you have to do. That's been a surprise. In terms of the coaching, that's been fairly normal. But I think I have to say a big thank-you to the support staff. They've all had to muck in and they've done that to a man. I think the players would appreciate that as well."

The wonder is how they now appreciate Shakespeare telling them they're dropped, when he used to be the one to console them. "I can still do that at the right times," he said. "Has it been difficult? Not really. I'm clear in my mind the way I want to go with the team and the selection. I won't be frightened if ever I have to change it. But the human side is important as well. The players want to see you can talk to them and that's been an important side."

For all the debate about whether those players downed tools on Ranieri or whether the Italian could no longer rouse them, it is impossible not to notice that they have significantly improved in application. It also feels like it's about more than application, but a certain ease - and, as Shakespeare put it, calmness - about what they're doing. Sometimes players just need that change, that jolt, even if it was so jarring for Ranieri.

It was just like the squad believed in what they were doing again, as illustrated by the strides of Jamie Vardy, the stunning magic of Riyad Mahrez, and the sturdiness of Wes Morgan. The supporters were conspicuously singing 'we've got our Leicester back'.

"I think I heard them the other night singing that as well. Fans will always recognise that when you're in the lead. They probably sang it in Seville as well but they were that far away we couldn't hear them. But as I've said before the Seville result was a good result, but at the end of the day to put back-to-back wins together was vitally important."

Yes, Sevilla. The Champions League. Shakespeare claims he hasn't thought about being in charge for that match but, now that relegation worries have significantly eased and there is a bit of optimism about the team again, it is the great hope of their season: a Champions League run.

As out-performed as they were in the first leg, too, it isn't outlandish to think they can do something after a managerial change or even the appointment of a caretaker. It was precisely what happened with Chelsea and Roberto Di Matteo in 2012, and Aston Villa and Tony Barton as long ago as 1982.

There's also the fact they have the opportunity for a mid-season break coming up, something seen as key to last season's impressive run-in. Leicester went on a trip to Dubai immediately after the late 2-1 defeat to Arsenal in February 2016, and then mounted their title surge.

"The aim is to try to spend time together, do things socially together. I said before that we haven't had that opportunity because of the Africa Cup of Nations and the FA Cup replays. It's been in the pipeline for months. We're looking forward to it," said Shakespeare.

"It will be training. I've left that to the powers that be in terms of organisation. I've enjoyed just concentrating on Hull and let them concentrate on the trip."

It certainly feels like a squad where worries have eased.

Irish Independent

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