No sooner had the blue ribbons been tied on the Premier League trophy as it was paraded around the King Power Stadium, the vultures were circling above looking to cherry-pick Leicester’s talent. One of the most remarkable aspect of the Foxes’ improbable rise to the top is that it was accomplished with a team of unheralded players, many of whom the casual football fan will never have heard of. Kasper Schmeichel, Danny Simpson and Danny Drinkwater were all discarded by the two big Manchester clubs, this season fighting it out for the Arsenal fourth-placed trophy. Remarkably, Marc Albrighton wasn’t wanted at Villa Park, the team that finished bottom as Leicester romped to the title. The stories of discarded players done good are endless in this squad. Even the manager has been written off in the past, only to achieve the most beautiful of redemptions.
While many of the players will be coveted, most of the speculation will surround the futures of three men: Jamie Vardy, N’Golo Kante and Riyad Mahrez, all of whom were named in the PFA Team of the Year for 2015/16. Despite the hefty price tags these players would command this summer were they to move, their stock wasn’t quite so high this time last summer. Jamie Vardy’s back story in non-league football has already been well documented, and is rumoured to be the plot of a future Hollywood film, and he had already been capped by England before the start of this season, but few expected him to take the league by storm and score more than 20 goals. Riyad Mahrez, the 2016 PFA Players’ Player of the Year, had an unremarkable career before arriving in England. Mahrez, born in France to Algerian parents, played for Quimpers and then Le Havre before joining Leicester in January 2014 for a reported £400,000. He only scored seven goals during his first 18 months with the Foxes and like Vardy, has taken the football world by surprise with his form this season. Kante, a Frenchman of Malian descent, played for Boulogne and Caen in the French league before Leicester acquired his services for less than six million pounds, an absolute bargain in this era of frivolous spending.
There is a chance that all three will be the subject of bids this summer. What would suit the players? To stay or to leave? And from the clubs point of view: would it be wise to keep hold of them or cash in now?
From Leicester’s point of view, the players may never be more valuable than this summer. The club could turn a huge profit and reinvest the money to strengthen the quantity and quality of the squad. However, the money coming in from the new TV deal should render that idea obsolete. They don’t need the money, and surely it’d be better for them to keep the squad together, even strengthen, and have a real go at defending the league title and starting a new adventure in the Champions League.
Should the players stay, there will no doubt be contract negotiations to raise their salaries to a level commensurate with their new standing in the game. However, Leicester must tread carefully. They may be in the Champions League next season, and could be competing at the top of the Premier League once again, but the Leeds United/Peter Risdale saga should provide enough evidence putting all of your eggs in once basket. Improved contracts should follow, as long as it is within a sustainable framework that safeguards the long-term future of Leicester City Football Club. That is the most important thing.
If the players were to leave, they’d have to consider which club to join. In this news void, between the last games of the season and upcoming summer tournaments, transfer tattle is all the press have. Because of this, all three players have been linked with seemingly every club from John O’Groats to St. Petersburg. They may choose to go to a “bigger” club and earn more money, but the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. There have been too many instances of players leaving and losing momentum. Who is to say that an injury and/or loss of form wouldn’t see one of these players end up on the bench somewhere? It’s happened to better players in the past.
Saying that, I’m not naive and appreciate that football is a short career in which players seek to earn as much money as possible in a short space of time whilst, with any luck, winning a few trophies and creating memories in the process. What if they turned down a move this summer and then suffered a career threatening injury on the opening day?
Life, and football, is full of “what if” moments. I’d like to think if I was in their shoes I’d give it at least one more season. Sometimes you don’t know when you have a good thing. Leicester’s players are seemingly enjoying their football, an environment which allows them to flourish. In any walk of life, you can’t put a price on being happy with what you do on a day-to-day basis. The atmosphere and team spirit at the club appears healthy. Let’s hope the players aren’t swallowed up by so-called bigger clubs who wouldn’t have touched them with a barge pole last summer.
If Leicester are eliminated from Europe at the first hurdle, and are mid-table in the league at Christmas, there is always the January transfer window. However, if next season is as unpredictable as this season, who knows what will happen.