Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Conclusions from the Summer That Wasn't

It has been a rather slow summer for the Foxes' faithful this time around, with next to no news emanating from the King Power Stadium since that gut-wrenching season finale at Vicarage Road in mid-May.

Only the signature of unlikely man Zoumana Bakayogo on a free from Tranmere Rovers has sated the appetite of the hungry Blue Army, as Nigel Pearson has adjusted to a rein-tightening role following the introduction of the new Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules. Indeed, it has been the departure gate that has made the news, with Jermaine Beckford's hefty salary finally removed from the wage bill. He joined Bolton Wanderers and Leicester are likely to have made a heavy loss on the £2 million-plus paid to Everton by Sven Goran Eriksson two summers ago.

And how different it was back then. Not only was Eriksson's summer spending spree, lending a now-outmoded moniker 'Big Spending Leicester' to the club, a complete contrast in terms of the shift in personnel, it was also different in terms of the optimism amongst the City fans. With a huge list of big names arriving on wages to match, and an entertaining friendly against Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid Galacticos the climax to pre-season festivities, Leicester were favourites for promotion and riding the crest of a wave. How soon that was to be undone by woeful performances and dire results, Eriksson sacked by October and Nigel Pearson reinstated a fortnight later to steady the ship.

Today, criticisms of Pearson can be heard on the terraces and read about on forums, not least after yesterday's friendly defeat at Northampton Town. What many Leicester City fans seem unable to appreciate is the unimportance of results in pre-season and the underdog reputation of their club: the Foxes are never better than when they are unfancied at the start of the year. Those quiet mid-table predictions will do just fine if it hampers the rampant optimism and expectation of the 'favourites' tag.

Quietly is how Leicester do it best. Pearson assembled a squad of young, talented and dedicated players last season and they have gelled to form, on their day, one of the most formidable sides in the Championship. They ran out of steam last year, undone by the hype and praise which comes from topping the table and only clinching a play-off spot on the last day of term, in one of those wonderful moments that football fans live for. That they came within one kick and twenty seconds of a Wembley play-off final - for the second time under Pearson's stewardship, lest we forget - is something the Blue Army should be grateful for. Blaming Pearson - and calling for his head in pre-season - is hardly logical or worthwhile.

That is why I have bought my season ticket for next year and why I am quietly hopeful of more good things to come. Pearson has used those pre-season friendlies to apply new ideas from the training ground and improve fitness across the squad. He has introduced a new formation to give Leicester a plan 'B' and allowed players to challenge themselves against lower opponents in order to increase their understanding of the game. Five young strikers found the net at some point, whilst others failed to do so against the combined €100 million-plus of Monaco: so what? Every player has received valuable game-time in the build-up to what will be another roller-coaster of a season.

And if - if - City scrape into the play-offs again, let's just hope it'll be third-time lucky for Pearson's Foxes. 
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