Sunday 19 November 2017

Fearless Foxes happy to keep underdog tag for next quest

Leicester City 3 Everton 1

Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri lifts the Premier League trophy
Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri lifts the Premier League trophy
Leicester City's Riyad Mahrez lifts the Premier League Trophy. Photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images)

John Percy

'Forever Fearless' has been Leicester City's slogan throughout this magical campaign and Claudio Ranieri has vowed to take that approach into the Champions League.

With his suit drenched in Champagne after another emotionally charged evening, courtesy of an assault by defender Christian Fuchs, Ranieri was already turning his focus to European nights and warning that Leicester would be dangerous underdogs.

This emphatic victory over Everton was a performance of champions and a clear message to a global audience that Leicester's success is unlikely to be a one-season wonder.

Ranieri will retreat to Italy to "recharge his batteries" this month but the work ahead of next season has already begun, with significant funds made available by the club's ambitious Thai owners.

Leicester cannot afford to stand still after making such an indelible mark in Premier League history and are determined to ensure their experience of the Champions League continues the fairytale.

"I believe when the draw is made for the Champions League a lot of teams will want to play against us because we are in Europe for the first time," said Ranieri.


"We are underdogs but we are dangerous. Underdogs can be dangerous teams.

"I am confident because this team three years ago won the Championship and the Championship is very tough. They run all the time.

"I hope we can find good players and make replacements because next season there will be three cups and the Premier League and it will be important to be able to make good changes and give players rest.

"I will ask for the same attitude, the same concentration. When I see the players play with such spirit, I am happy."

Ranieri is in line for a new contract while many of his squad are also in line for improved terms.

Question marks continue to surround key players such as Riyad Mahrez (right) and N'Golo Kante, but there is a growing optimism that this band of brothers will stay together.

"If they are intelligent, they stay with us another year," the Italian said before Kasper Schmeichel and Christian Fuchs stormed the media suite in Leicester, dousing their manager in Champagne.

"They know the Champions League is very difficult. Then after this next experience, they can go.

"If they ask me something, I say 'stay with me'. But if somebody comes to me and says 'I'd like to go' then go because I want only happy players with me."

As Fuchs said, who in their right mind would want to get off this rollercoaster ride?

"Leicester City are playing Champions League football, isn't that a good enough reason to stay at this club?" he said.

"Bringing in other players is not in my hands but it's going to be a tough challenge and I think everybody should look forward to it. It's going to be amazing to play in it - I played in it for three years [with Schalke] and I'm happy to be back."

This title party sizzled from the start. Any notion the game would be a sideshow were dismissed by a display of power, intensity and skill. Leicester could have scored five.

Jamie Vardy lit the blue touch paper with a typically adept finish before the outstanding Andy King - the former trainee who has won titles in League One, the Championship and the Premier League - added a second from close range.

Vardy's 24th goal of the season came from the spot, but his second penalty is still orbiting the moon.

Everton managed to score a late consolation through substitute Kevin Mirallas but they were woeful under a manager who is surely heading for the exit.

Fireworks were still shooting into the sky before midnight at the King Power Stadium, with players and staff treated to a meal by chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha.

Reflecting on the day, which included a stirring rendition of Nessun Dorma by Andrea Bocelli, Ranieri said: "It was a fantastic shock. Before the match, I asked the players, 'Show me we are champions. All the people are waiting to see you play as champions'.

"I will keep the winners' medal in my home and when there is a bad moment, I will look at it and say, 'hey, come on man, balance'."

Steve Walsh, the man behind Leicester City's key signings of Mahrez and Kanté, has agreed a new contract in another huge boost for the Premier League champions.

Walsh and joint assistant manager Craig Shakespeare are both expected to sign new deals this week and pledge their futures to Leicester after months of negotiations.

Having discovered the likes of Mahrez and Kanté, plus Vardy, the head of recruitment's reputation has soared and Leicester have moved to reward him for his achievements.

Walsh's scouting team has suffered the departures of Rob Mackenzie and Ben Wrigglesworth to Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal respectively over the last 12 months, but Walsh has confirmed he will be staying.

Shakespeare is also a vital member of the backroom team and maintained the link with the Leicester dressing room after the dismissal of former manager Nigel Pearson in June.

Both Walsh and Shakespeare would have had 12 months remaining on their deals this summer but are expected to have agreed three-year extensions.

Walsh is now turning his focus to signings for the summer, with Leicester now ready to offer targets the carrot of Champions League football.

However, he insists their transfer policy will not be altered despite growing expectations.


In a rare interview after Saturday's 3-1 win over Everton, he said: "With our achievements this season there now comes expectations of massive wages and big transfer fees, and that's certainly not the way we're intending to go.

"I think you've got to bring in the people who you think will do the job. People who fit in. You bring in good players, irrespective of what other people think. You bring in the best players you can that fit the way you want to play.

"Clearly we'll need some extra players because there are very few players who we've got who are out of contract, so the ones who did it this season will be given the opportunity to see if they can duplicate that form and do it again."

Walsh's discovery of Mahrez, named the Professional Footballers' Association Player of the Year last month, has gone down in Leicester history after the club paid Le Havre just £400,000 for the Algeria winger in January 2014.

This season the signing of Kanté for £5.6m has been just as significant, with the France midfielder now coveted by Arsenal, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain.

As to the secret of his success, Walsh said: "I think it's about knowledge. You can't know every player in the world, that's impossible. But if you target certain leagues, which we do, and you try and find the better players within that league, and then try and find out about them as much as you can." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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