Daniel Storey: Leicester City continue to punch above weight in fans’ final

Leicester City are proof of another way
Daniel Storey: Leicester City continue to punch above weight in fans’ final

WEMBLEY WONDERS: Leicester City veteran Wes Morgan, left, and goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel lift the FA Cup together as the Foxes celebrate Saturday’s victory over Chelsea at Wembley. Leicester are a club in perfect synergy. Picture: Kirsty Wigglesworth/PA

Leicester earn reward for their commitment to unity

This has been a dismal season for the owners of the biggest Premier League clubs, who first tried to coerce their peers into Project Big Picture and then, when that plot failed, went several steps further with their European Super League breakaway.

Those owners are rightly facing ire and mistrust of those supporters who they so wantonly ignored.

But Leicester City are proof of another way. Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha was an extremely wealthy man, but one who understood the potential power of knitting together a club and its community. Vichai’s tragic death re-energised Leicester to fight on in his memory.

Leicester do not have the financial might of those around them (their wage bill is roughly 40% the total of the highest in the Premier League), but they are a club in perfect synergy. At how many other top-six clubs would the owner walk onto the pitch and enjoy such emotional embraces with players and manager?

And that should make us happy.

Leicester City are proof that comparatively provincial clubs can achieve a miracle not in isolation, but by consistently punching above their weight and through the smart use of analytics, recruitment, player development, and man management.

If they can do it, so too can others.

This will be known as ‘The Fans’ Final’

It’s very easy to allow the emotional context of a match to rule the head. This was an FA Cup final that only came to life in the final 20 minutes.

Leicester have certainly played better this season. They were sluggish in the final third, Jamie Vardy shackled by Reece James and Kelechi Iheanacho far below his recent form. They sat too deep in the first half, scared by Chelsea’s pace. That created a gap between defence and midfield in which Mason Mount regularly picked up possession.

But this was an occasion on which the minutiae of the game can forgivably be ignored in favour of focus on the sentiment. The return of supporters to Wembley, 20,000 in all, was the highest attendance at a match in England since Leicester’s victory over Aston Villa in March 2020. The roar when Youri Tielemans’ shot roared into the top corner of Kepa’s net acted as the starter’s gun for football’s return to normality. Fans danced in their seats, celebrating not just the winning goal but their presence to witness it.

It is painfully obvious to say we have missed supporters at matches; that is an argument with no retort. But the surge of energy in the telling moments of the final — the goal, Kasper Schmeichel’s extraordinarily strong left hand, the VAR intervention, the final whistle — still caught us off guard. That is the positive spin on the grim absence of fans over the last 14 months: Their return reinforces their importance and crystallises the sensual impact of their raw emotion.

Rodgers the standard bearer for an entire coaching system

This was not Brendan Rodgers’ first trophy; he collected every honour in Scotland that he was eligible for.

That spell at Celtic may not have landed him a job at a financially elite Premier League club — and there were questions as to whether Celtic to Leicester represented a step up — but it enabled him to understand the unique pressures of chasing silverware rather than just progress.

And Rodgers now has his trophy in England to atone for last season’s late slump and Liverpool’s failure to get over the line in 2014. Rodgers is not just the best manager that the English coaching system has produced over the last 20 years; he’s the standard bearer for that system.

Rodgers had little playing career of which to speak, effectively retiring at 20 due to a knee injury. But like those German coaches over whom we faun, Rodgers immediately began working on his badges and worked his way through academy teams and assistant manager jobs before taking his first managerial role outside the top tier.

Perhaps Liverpool came a little early in the cycle, ultimately exposing the flaws in Rodgers’ methods and causing his eventual sacking. But at Leicester City he has found the perfect habitat to rehabilitate his reputation and prove that he is worthy of an elite job. Or, as the club’s fans may well point out, turn Leicester into that elite club.

Chelsea in danger of wasting their spring surge

This has not been a good week for Thomas Tuchel. Chelsea’s manager declared that he was in ‘angry mode’ after making numerous changes for Chelsea’s home game against Arsenal and seeing them lose their grip on a top-four finish. If Tuchel demanded a response and Chelsea did indeed improve, the end result casts further doubt on their pursuit of a magical half-season.

Tuchel is not quite back to square one; he has built up plenty enough momentum to survive this bump in the road and even a top-four finish plus two final defeats would represent great strides forward from the Frank Lampard mini-era.

But he knows only too well that there are those in the punditry class who are waiting for him to fail, and the selection of Marcos Alonso and Hakim Ziyech were both missteps that may have cost Chelsea the FA Cup.

Tuesday’s repeat fixture is now seismic for Chelsea. Fail to beat a Leicester team clearly on a high after Saturday and Champions League qualification by their league position will be out of their hands. That would put an awful lot of pressure on the result of the Champions League final in Portugal.

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