Rediscovering the Leicester Way

He was Leicester’s performance psychologist when the Foxes won the miracle Premier League title. But looking in from outside the camp this season, Ken Way reaches past distance covered or pass completion or expected goals for an unusual metric to get to grips with a collapse.

Rediscovering the Leicester Way

“I’ve worked at many clubs and I had never seen a team spirit like we had. Christian Fuchs said they were just friends having fun on the football pitch. And that really epitomised the team spirit, the guys were just having fun.

“YouTube is full of wacky, and dare I say puerile, videos that the guys put up showing the ridiculous things that they got up to, just the fun and games.

“From outside now, it’s just conjecture and it’s a strange measure, but there was nowhere near the same number of videos this season. I think the fun seems to have disappeared. I have no idea why because I wasn’t part of it.”

When Claudio Ranieri’s players and staff returned for pre-season last summer, Way was on guard.

“I was concerned with what I’d call the complacency effect. It’s very well documented that when a team has got success, no matter how much they think they’ll continue to strive at the same level, they do ease off.

“The metaphor I often use; it’s a well-known fact that more mountaineers die on the way down rather than on the ascent.

“Once the team spirit is good, it takes a lot to damage it. But you have to continually keep your eye on those elements that could break it.

“On a match-day, for example, most of my work was with the players just outside the squad, looking for all those tell-tale signs where a player seemed to be disengaged or disenfranchised.”

This season it was no longer Way’s job to stay alert for what he calls ‘terrorist activity’, the negativity bombs of the disaffected who, often unthinkingly, undermine group morale. After the opening day defeat by Hull, he learned his services were no longer required.

“I suspect that decision had been made before I turned up to the first match. I was given my notice by the director of football who told me it was Claudio’s decision.

“I’m even wondering now if it was Claudio’s decision. I’d love to know some of the internal dynamics, but I guess I’ll never find out.”

Way admits to being “emotionally bruised” by the episode, though won’t criticise Ranieri, admitting he will be listening intently when his former boss finally opens up on his own sacking when he appears as a pundit on Sky Sports on Monday Night Football for Arsenal v Crystal Palace on April 10.

“I must admit I’m very interested to hear what he will say. We exchanged a couple of texts both before and after me leaving and him leaving. He’s such a nice guy. He really is a gentleman and I’ll be fascinated to hear what he’s got to say about it all.”

Way also passionately defends the Leicester players of treachery charges.

“A lot of people are pointing fingers, saying they didn’t work for Claudio and now they’re working for Craig Shakespeare. I promise you it’s not a case of the guys going on the pitch and consciously, purposefully, not trying as hard.

“It’s a psychological phenomenon that actually they feel like they are trying as hard but there are lots of little things getting in the way.

“If you’re not having fun in any team, one of the things that happens is blame and finger-pointing. You look at your fellow players and feel they’re not pulling their weight, not making the right pass. You feel it’s their fault.” A role in the fairytale was “special” for Way, but he also relished working with Nigel Pearson, when the magic beans were planted.

“Nigel had built the culture, not just the people, but the way they should interact, they should behave, how the should get on with one another.

“That team spirit just continued. Claudio inherited it. And what he did that was really good was he changed nothing.”

With relegation looming this season, the club opted for change. Now six clear of the drop zone ahead of this afternoon’s home game with Stoke and with a Champions League quarter-final on the horizon, Way suspects the man he calls ‘Shaky’ has the training ground smiling again.

“Shaky had a tremendous sense of humour. He wouldn’t allow things to get too awkward and serious. Even when he was Nigel’s assistant, he was the glue that held things together.”

Expect the Foxes revival to soon translate from the league table onto YouTube.

  • *Ken Way will speak at University College Cork’s Boole 4 next Wednesday, April 5, at 8pm at a special lecture event to celebrate 10 years of UCC’s Sports Studies and Physical Education degree programme. Tickets €15 at bit.ly/kenwayucc

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