Leicester missed out on Champions League football after defeat to West Ham last season… but after two near misses at Europe’s elite, the Foxes are building on and off the pitch as they return to the London Stadium hunting the top four again
- Leicester City were beaten 3-2 at West Ham in April as they chased top four
- Foxes were pipped to the Champions League on the final day of the season
- But after winning FA Cup final last term, the club appear to be heading upwards
- New stadium expansion and development of stars hints a bright future
- Brendan Rodgers will now hope his team can make winning return to West Ham
To the casual observer, May 2021 might look like the high watermark for Leicester City. Five years after shocking the football world by winning the Premier League title, the Foxes made history again by claiming the FA Cup for the first time in their 137-year existence.
For a club that only recently started to challenge the elite regularly, how would it be possible to top that?
Instead of basking in their success, however, Leicester are thinking even bigger. They travel to West Ham on Monday night in a confident mood after beating Manchester City to the Community Shield and then overcoming Wolves in their first Premier League game of the season. Yet what is happening off the pitch is possibly even more significant than Leicester’s work on it.
Leicester City will hope to make it third time lucky in their bid to qualify for the Champions League after just missing out on the top four in the last two seasons
The Foxes though still had an excellent 2020-21 campaign after winning the FA Cup
By the time they start the 2024-25 season, Leicester hope to have raised the capacity of their stadium to 40,000, an increase of 8,000.
The new development, estimated to cost more than £100million, would complement the state-of-the-art training ground opened late last year — another £100m investment.
In each of the last two seasons, Leicester missed out on the Champions League on the final day of the campaign despite spending the majority of it in the top four.
Yet rather than take a step back, chairman Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, better known as Khun Top, continues to offer his backing. Khun Top’s father, Vichai, was killed in a helicopter crash near the King Power Stadium in October 2018.
Leicester are targeting constant improvement, with plans to expand the ground to 40,000
Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, Leicester City chairman, is pictured with the four trophies won under his family’s ownership. His father and former chairman Vichai, pictured in the background, ran the club until he was killed in a helicopter crash in 2018
‘Susan Whelan (chief executive) is really driven to protect Vichai’s legacy and this (stadium project) was something that was very important to him and his family,’ said boss Brendan Rodgers.
‘I’ve seen the images and it was really exciting. It was nice to see these great plans but hopefully I’m good enough to be here to see them finished.’
Rodgers has certainly kept his part of the bargain until now. Since taking charge in February 2019, he has turned Leicester from mid-table drifters into one of the best teams in the country.
Thanks to the work of Rodgers and his coaching team, players like Harvey Barnes, Wilfred Ndidi, Kelechi Iheanacho and Youri Tielemans have taken huge steps forward.
Their methodical approach to recruitment means little is left to chance. As the hours tick by towards the transfer deadline, many clubs will sign players offered to them by agents whom they know little about — but Leicester will not be among them. ‘The success of Leicester is based around planning,’ said Rodgers. ‘We got players relatively early because 18 months ago we’d been planning forward, looking at gaps in the squad and doing the work leading up to them coming up.
Under Brendan Rodgers’ management, Leicester’s players have been developed expertly
But they will hope to reverse a costly defeat at West Ham from last season on Monday night
‘It leaves us in a really calm place. Having common sense is vitally important. You have to be realistic about what you can bring in. There are players we can’t afford, but that’s OK. We will always bring in players who are hungry and can be developed.’
The trip to West Ham is, however, a painful reminder that not everything can be prepared in advance.
Leicester were beaten 3-2 at the London Stadium in April but their build-up was thrown into chaos after it emerged six players, among them James Maddison, Hamza Choudhury and Ayoze Perez, had attended a party earlier that month, in breach of Covid regulations. Rodgers left out all three and admitted that the incident was his lowest moment as Leicester manager.
And after the Foxes missed out on the top four by a single point, his mind may have turned again to that day. Monday night would be the perfect moment to banish the memory for good.
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