Saturday 21 July 2018

Captain Morgan the greatest story in Leicester's fairytale

Wes Morgan makes his point to Emmanuel Emenike during Leicester’s draw with West Ham yesterday. Photo: Dan Mullan/Getty Images
Wes Morgan makes his point to Emmanuel Emenike during Leicester’s draw with West Ham yesterday. Photo: Dan Mullan/Getty Images
Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

On numerous occasions in his career, Lionel Messi has produced a moment of magic that has left some of the best players in the world shaking their head in admiration knowing that, even at their very best, they couldn't replicate what the Argentinian genius has done.

At the polar opposite end of this scale is Wes Morgan, a centre-back who virtually every centre-back thinks they could be.

Morgan's playing capabilities bring to mind that scene from The Full Monty when one of the would-be strippers is being questioned by the potential employer.

"You don't sing?"


"You don't dance?"


"Hope you don't mind me being nosey, but what do you do?"

"Well, there is this..." at which point the camera switches behind to a shot of the man with his trousers around his ankles and what presumably, just like Leicester City, is a powerful and impressive force down the middle.

In Morgan's case that "what do you do?" question could be answered that he organises his team, wins tackles and wins headers. It's nothing fancy and is about as basic as it gets for a central defender but the ability to play to the strengths of their team - particularly their defenders - has been the foundation for Leicester's charge towards the Premier League title.

Defend narrow, make the opponent cross and win the header isn't rocket science but has worked almost perfectly, until yesterday when a clearing header found West Ham's Aaron Cresswell who rocketed a shot back into the top corner. Conceding such strikes, however, has been rare.

After they beat Sunderland, Irish defender Darren O'Dea tweeted about Leicester winning the Premier League while playing Championship football and questioning the standard of play in the season.

It, presumably, wasn't meant as any sort of insult but it would be surprising if Morgan didn't generate that sort of understandable envy from players like O'Dea who spent several seasons playing in the same Championship division as him while none of them looked particularly capable of playing at a higher level, much less captaining a team to win the Premier League.

Of all the stories in the Leicester team, Morgan's is the most remarkable of the fairytale given that, were the 32-year-old still playing in the Championship, there wouldn't be many supporters of Premier League clubs clambering for their team to sign him.

Most of Leicester's players fall into one of two categories: the undiscovered gem or the jilted talent with something to prove.

There has barely been a Jamie Vardy story without reference to what he was doing this time five years ago while playing for Fleetwood (he had just scored twice in a 2-2 draw against Lincoln in the Conference if you're interested) while the rise of Riyad Mahrez and N'Golo Kante from lower league French football astounds and frustrates those who missed out on them.

In the other camp are the likes of Kasper Schmeichel who spent four years with Manchester City; Danny Simpson and Danny Drinkwater who did the same at Manchester United; Robert Huth who has two Premier League medals, albeit a decade ago; and Marc Albrighton whose debut for Aston Villa came in the UEFA Cup.

The second category of player clearly had something about them to convince some of England's best teams to pay them for several years before, for whatever reason, things didn't work out.

Morgan's case is rather different. As he revealed in an interview in the Daily Mail on Saturday, he failed to get a YTS contract with Notts County as a 16-year-old then, a couple of years later, having been successful in a trial at Nottingham Forest, he was told to lose two stone in the summer before coming back for pre-season.

"I remember doing laps of the City Ground on my own every day and, when the youth team played games, I just ran," he recalled of a situation that is far removed from the dreams that most players, even among his team-mates, harboured when they were teenagers.

"I played against Wes Morgan when I was coming towards the end of my career," said Paul Merson of a game against Nottingham Forest in League One in November 2003. "I must have been 35 or 36 at Walsall and he played centre-half with Des Walker."

"And how was he?" asked Jeff Stelling.

"He was atrocious. Atrocious at the highest level," replied Merson, in his own unique style, of a game which Walsall won 4-1.

"Honestly, I'd never seen anything like it and I watch him now and have to hold my hand up at how good he has been."


It's a measure of how long Morgan has been around that he played against Merson and Vinny Samways that day, now aged 48 and 47, and alongside Des Walker, now aged 50 and yesterday was his 600th appearance as a professional.

In most of the previous 599, he would have got away with the sort of shirt-grab for which he was punished yesterday but far more synonymous with Morgan was the moment after half an hour when he clashed with Emmanuel Emenike.

With a ball being launched from West Ham's left side, Morgan planted his feet and waited for a header as the West Ham striker ran into him and hit the ground like a man who had just run into a tree he hadn't seen.

Yesterday, as they have done for most of the season, Morgan stood firm with Huth in the face of a barrage, particularly after Leicester went down to 10 men to earn a point which may prove crucial.

If Leicester win the title, Morgan will join Steve Bruce, Tony Adams, John Terry, Nemanja Vidic and Vincent Kompany as centre-backs to lift the Premier League. He may not have their talent but, for that reason, he is the man who brings hope to everyone else.

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