Leicester City were competing in their own mini-league to be labelled the best of the rest in the Premier League this season. From an outsider’s perspective, the scathing criticism directed at Claude Puel prior to his dismissal seemed unwarranted but Brendan Rodgers’ impact suggested that the unpopular boss did indeed conspired to stifle the club’s development.
After leaving Celtic fans red-faced with rage in the middle of the season, Northern Ireland’s answer to David Brent was greeted with a wonderfully talented collection of players. From jet-heeled attacking veteran Jamie Vardy right the way through to slide-tackling extraordinaire Hamza Choudhury, Leicester’s squad is stacked with players who boast credentials to eventually earn a top-six move; collectively they have the potential to rise into that bracket next season.
The future is bright at the King Power Stadium and no revelation encapsulates that notion better than Aidy Boothroyd’s latest England U21 announcement. Ahead of the U21 European Championships this summer, he has confirmed the personnel who will be travelling to Italy and San Marino next month.
Curveballs were nowhere to be seen as Brentford’s Ezri Konsa was the only non-Premier League player to get the call. And, with the exception of Chelsea, no other top-flight club boasted a stronger contingent of players than the Foxes.
Ten players from ten different Premier League clubs make up a large proportion of the squad, but there is a clear dominance from Chelsea, Leicester and Everton. The west London outfit boast the largest handful of players in Boothroyd’s squad but it is pertinent to note that four of those players – Fikayo Tomori, Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount and Jay Dasilva – have been out on loan at Championship clubs this season, while Jake Clarke-Salter spent the campaign with Vitesse.
All four of Leicester’s chosen players, however, have played key roles in the club’s Premier League campaign.
James Maddison has been a revelation since arriving from Norwich City, cutting through opponents with a combination of dribbling and passing, finding the net from dead ball situations and lending Vardy reason to burst beyond the last man off the ball; Choudhury has been one of the breakthrough performers in the entire division; Harvey Barnes looked a frightening prospect in both the second and first tiers; Demarai Gray continued to underachieve but could yet be transformed by Rodgers.
Ben Chilwell doesn’t make the squad by virtue of his importance to the senior side. No other club in the country can boast this level of exceptional, prodigious, English talent.
But that supremacy arrives at a price for Rodgers and the rest of the club’s decision makers. English players with the potential to develop are the most sought-after commodity for top-four chasing clubs at the summit of the division, and one only has to take a look at Manchester City’s transfer policy in recent years to appreciate that.
Since 2015, the defending champions have signed Raheem Sterling, John Stones and Kyle Walker in £49 million, £47 million and £53 million deals respectively.
Tottenham Hotspur, meanwhile, boast a rich history of promoting English players and links with the likes of Jack Grealish, Max Aarons and Che Adams hint that their transfer policy will be shaped by a desire to bolster their homegrown quota.
For now Leicester can look forward to seeing their young generation of English talent in action at the Euros this summer, but there exists a prescient warning from City’s transfer policy in recent years and the general attraction of homegrown players to give the club something to be fearful of.
Keeping this group of players together and tightly-knit must be at the core of Rodgers’ long-term strategy.