Thursday 23 November 2017

'The issue is that I am 29, I am married, I have two kids, but people still see me as someone's son'

Leicester's Kasper Schmeichel. Photo: Getty
Leicester's Kasper Schmeichel. Photo: Getty

Amy Lawrence

How extraordinary that such a long, meandering footballing path should lead to this very place. Leicester City's season has been played out with a couldn't-make-it-up soundtrack as it is. Now, for Kasper Schmeichel, there is an extra crescendo of the unbelievable as he heads, one win away from the most monumental achievement of his career, to such familiar territory at Old Trafford.

Some old video footage exists of Kasper many years ago in the tunnel at Manchester United, resembling a mini-me Peter with his striking blond hair, all kitted out in his father's kit and goalie gloves, competitively trying to keep out shots from Steve Bruce's son Alex while Paul Ince's toddler Thomas plays with a toy ball. That was 1994. Kasper was seven years old. He watched his dad and friends win the Premier League and FA Cup double that season.

The family heritage has been a sensitive issue for Schmeichel junior throughout the various snakes and ladders of his footballing development. For a long time it was clearly not a subject for public consumption. At his first call-up for the Danish national team the assembled journalists bided their time to ask the inevitable. He rolled his eyes as if to say: do we have to?

Of course, the scrutiny and curiosity, ever since he started playing schoolboy football, has been endless. What is it like being the son of Peter the great? Even now, strangers come up with some wisecrack about how he will never be as good as the original. Being his own man, with his own qualities, his own direction, his own style, his own ambitions, seeking a life as a goalkeeper has not been the easiest mission. Being judged by different guidelines to all his peers is something he has tried to live with as privately as possible.

Leicester's No 1, midway through this outstanding season, finally felt able to tackle the subject openly. The shadow of his father's lofty status in the game's pantheon has "been no help whatsoever in my career", he explained. "It's been quite the opposite, I feel. The issue is that I am 29, I am married, I have two kids, but people still see me as someone's son."

Today that someone's son is on the verge of his own spectacular accomplishment. He has been superb during this campaign, with a combination of eye-catching saves, strong organisational skills and natural leadership qualities.

An insight into the fearless character that has proved such a bedrock of this title challenge came as he prepared himself for Leicester ticking off their latest win last Sunday against Swansea.

The expression on Schmeichel's face moments before leaving the tunnel was something to behold. He was beaming. Pressure? No chance. His supersized smile stood out while his team-mates showed focus and concentration, a funnelling of mental energy into what they were about to do.

Schmeichel appeared as if he was thinking of the funniest joke he had ever heard.

He trotted out and headed for the centre circle, prowled around by himself in the middle of the pitch and carefully put on his gloves. Then he meandered over to the referee for some chit-chat, and finally set off on a slow, circuitous route towards his goal. He had 10 stop-off points. He passed by every team-mate for a bearhug, a fist bump, a high five, an encouraging word. He reached his goalmouth ready for showtime.

While so many of his allies in this remarkable team have been lauded for coming from a footballing nowheresville at some point in their career, from non-league obscurity, rejection, a minor club or the journeyman's lot, Schmeichel - because his lineage apparently bestows some kind of grandeur - is not generally considered in the same boat. Yet he has had to get down and graft for his chance, probably with more conviction than most with his surname.

"I have had it from my first memories," he said. "For me, it's a thing that has made me very guarded around people. I might not be very approachable because through my whole life, from when I was eight years old, I had people camping behind my goal and hearing the whispers: 'It's Peter Schmeichel's son'."

He had it as a boy at Manchester City, during loan spells with Darlington, Bury, Cardiff and Coventry, on to League Two with Notts County, then the Championship with Leeds . . . And now this.

Trying to put the prospect of becoming a title-winner into context, football history is not littered with fathers and sons who have both won the league in one of Europe's prestige competitions.

Cesare and Paolo Maldini made colossal contributions to Milan with multiple Serie A titles and European Cup success.

Two sets of Spanish families have the honour of father and son both winning the league and the highest European honour - Real Madrid's Manuel Sanchis and Manuel, and Barcelona's Carles and Sergio Busquets. Jordi Cruyff may not have been as glorious a talent as his father Johan but he still won a league title.

Back in Schmeichel's homeland of Denmark, they have seen it before, and on both sides of the coin. A respected player in the 1960s and '70s, Finn Laudrup was regarded as one of the best of his generation and, some years later, the nation was enthralled to witness the brilliance of his sons, Michael in particular and also Brian. The next generation of Laudrup boys also tried to be footballers. Brian's son gave up in youth football. He was always confronted by the parents of other boys. He couldn't cope with the reality that others would kick him down because of his name.

Michael's oldest son, Mads, made a modest career in Denmark, and his youngest, Andreas (who chose to be referred to only by his first name when he played in Real Madrid's youth teams) was promising until he had to give up because of injury. Footballing genes offer no guarantees.

For Kasper Schmeichel, a meaningful medal of his own comes into sight.


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