Leicester City’s Out of Contract XI

There could be no questioning of commitment to the cause on Saturday.

When goal bound shots threatened Kasper Schmeichel’s goal it was Wes Morgan who threw himself in front of them. When a 90th minute sprint to the corner flag was required, Lloyd Dyer provided it. David Nugent played for nearly an hour with a stomach bug.

And yet those players were among half a dozen in the Leicester City starting eleven against Bournemouth who, as things stand, have contracts that expire at the end of the season.

In fact it’s now possible to create a plausible starting lineup made of Foxes players who could leave for nothing in July.

From right to left in a 4-2-3-1 it reads; Schmeichel; St Ledger, Wasilewski, Morgan, Konchesky; Whitbread, Danns; Waghorn, Taylor-Fletcher, Dyer; Nugent.

Leicester City have big decisions to make, and the looming burden of financial fair play makes matters all the more complicated.

In the last set of accounts City’s wage bill nearly reached the £28m mark. It was a figure that contributed significantly to club record losses of nearly £30m in 2011/12. That wage bill has undoubtedly been cut significantly in the last 15 months, but by how much is unknown.

So the question is, can Leicester City afford to renew contracts originally signed in an era when strict financial controls from the Football League didn’t apply?

Could a player earning £20,000 a week (£1m a year) really be offered the same amount now?

If a player can’t renew a contract for the same money, what then?

Would they accept a pay cut knowing that half the current squad (with contracts stretching to 2015 and 2016) will not have to take similar drops in pay?

Do they wait and see if a better deal is available next season elsewhere?

All this is unclear.

There are some factors operating in Leicester’s favour.

Firstly almost every other Championship club is being forced to make similar decisions. In 2011/12 every Championship club barring Blackpool made an operational loss. Few will be able to offer City’s highest paid stars better deals.

Secondly, promotion bonuses do not count towards financial fair play spending controls. The blow of a lower basic rate of pay could be softened by the promise of a large lump sum if City reach the Premier League – perhaps with the promise of a salary renegotiation on promotion.

On the other hand, the spending of some Championship clubs would suggest a few are prepared to risk a transfer embargo or a fine in the race for the Premier League.

Two years ago contract negotiations were different at Leicester City. Three and four year deals were signed by players with more than 12 months remaining on their current agreements.

We don’t know if financial fair play has changed the club’s approach to contract negotiations, but the fact that no City player has renewed a contract since last September hints that something has changed.

The next few months could be very interesting off the pitch as well as on it.

This topic will be part of the discussion on tonight’s Football Forum with Ian Stringer. You can have your say from 6 p.m. on BBC Radio Leicester by calling 0116 251 1049 or sending a text to 81333, starting you message with the word Leicester.


The search for middle ground – a Leicester City season preview

In a footballing world of absolutes, the ambiguities of Leicester City do not sit neatly.

The Foxes begin the campaign with fans divided over the strength of the squad, management, tactics, the new shirt and just about everything else.

Soon the talking will be over and the league table will begin to tell its own story, albeit a hotly contested one.

Just how much time is needed to judge a side? Even the verdict on Leicester’s return of 68 points from 46 games last year is not settled.

For some, a playoff place represented vindication for a manger having to cut costs. Nigel Pearson’s three full seasons in charge have brought a League One title and two Championship playoff berths.

Others see a side that scraped into the top six by the narrowest of margins with a record low points total for the playoffs. A team that just two months previously had looked destined for automatic promotion.

The cause of the malaise is still in doubt too. Was a youthful squad simply unable to sustain the high level of performance throughout the camapign? Or was it one of several other possible causes offered in the finest traditions of post hoc ergo propter hoc: a loss of momentum following mass changes in the FA Cup; a mysterious lower limb injury to Chris Wood; or some unsubstantiated falling out behind the scenes?

The way it all ended has made it difficult to move on from last season. A sluggish transfer window has hardly helped. One in, two out. With little further movement expected.

The debate around pre-season has centred, surprisingly, on tactics. The Foxes have started several pre-season outings in a 3-5-2, a formation coming back into fashion after being so well used by Hull and Watford last season.

It’s a system with limitations, especially against sides who play a lone striker (or as Middlesborough did at the King Power Stadium last season, none at all) but having an option like that will not support the arguments of those who suggest Nigel Pearson has no ‘Plan B’.

Pre-season itself has offered little real insight. A 0-3 loss at the hands of Monaco might have been City’s biggest defeat in a friendly since a 5-1 thumping at the hands of Lillestrøm in 2005, but it hardly matters.

Instead, the burden of Financial Fair Play will be the topic that persists long after games at Leamington, Port Vale, York and Northampton have been forgotten.

In no particular order Lloyd Dyer, Paul Gallagher, Andy King, Kasper Schmeichel, Neil Danns, Sean St Ledger, David Nugent and Paul Konchesky remain on contracts signed in an era when Leicester truly were big spenders.

No-one outside the club really knows if the departures of Jermaine Beckford and Richie Wellens will be enough to tip the balance sheet into compliance with new limits on club losses.

What remains clear, though, is that losses on the pitch must be kept to a minimum as Leicester City begin what will be their tenth and hopefully last season outside the top flight.

Six years after Milan Mandaric set out on a three year plan to reach the Premier League, and three years after Sven-Goran Eriksson told reporters promotion would come hopefully that season and if not, “definitely next year” – Leicester fans are tired of waiting.

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Why Financial Fair Play means Nigel Pearson needs to sell

It’s been a slow start to the summer for Leicester City.

This time last year all six of the Foxes pre-season friendlies had been announced, and City fans knew three new players (Matty James, Ritchie De Laet and Jamie Vardy) would feature in them.

So far this close season the only real news of note has been an assurance that Nigel Pearson will be here in August and Sean St Ledger almost certainly won’t.

The Irishman is unlikely to be the only exit of the summer. And there are three words which tell you why – Financial Fair Play.

The Football League’s new system of spending controls has technically been in effect for two seasons. But from 2013/14 the rules have sanctions attached in the form of fines for promoted clubs who overspend, and transfer embargoes for those who flash too much cash and fail to reach the Premier League.

Leicester City, with losses of nearly £30m reported in 2011/12, need to find ways to reduce those losses to just £8m to comply with the limit for the coming season.

The Foxes wage bill rose from £16.6m in 2010/11 to £27.7m in 2011/12. Cutting it back down appears essential to Leicester’s chances of meeting the Financial Fair Play limit.

Some work has already been done. Sol Bamba, Matt Mills and Yuki Abe have all been sold. The likes of Gelson Fernandes and Michael Johnson quickly returned to their parent clubs.

But many others remain on deals signed before there were hints of Financial Fair Play on the horizon. And of the current first team squad only the contracts of Martyn Waghorn and Conrad Logan expire this summer.

If the wage bill remains too high, and it seems reasonable to assume that it does, players on big contracts must be moved on. That is easier said than done.

Here’s a breakdown of contracts at Leicester City. Players highlighted in bold signed their most recent deals before Nigel Pearson returned to the King Power Stadium.

Under contract until 2014; Neil Danns, Lloyd Dyer, Paul Konchesky, Wes Morgan, David Nugent, Kasper Schemeichel, Sean St Ledger, Richie Wellens, Zac Whitbread.

Under contract until 2015; Jermaine Beckford, Ritchie De Laet, Danny Drinkwater, Marco Futacs, Paul Gallagher, Matty James, Andy King, Anthony Knockaert, Ben Marshall, Liam Moore, Jeffery Schlupp, Jamie Vardy.

Under contract until 2016; Chris Wood.

So Nigel Pearson’s task this summer is to find clubs who want to take on players he feels are no longer required, and find better, cheaper replacements. And, if those surplus to requirements at the King Power Stadium want to stay in England, they will almost certainly need to agree terms that are less favourable than their current deals.

This might take some time. Unfortunately for the manager Leicester City’s new financial year – the first to come under the scrutiny of Financial Fair Play rules with teeth – starts on Saturday.

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The 10 numbers that made Leicester City’s 2012/13

In a season that contained so many twists and turns, so many moments of elation and heartbreak, so much joy and frustration, it’s tough to sum it all up in 10 numbers. But here’s an attempt, your own key numbers for the season are welcome in the comments.

1 – Leicester were beaten often in 2012/13, far too often. And just as is was last year, the margin of failure was narrow. In 2011/12 a dozen of Leicester’s 16 defeats were by just a single goal. This year the Foxes again lost 16 times, with 15 defeats coming by the odd goal. In the Championship only Barnsley in the regular season, and of course Watford in the playoffs, managed to beat the Foxes by more than one. Every other side in the division suffered at least four defeats by two or more.

6 – Whilst of course losing by one goal or four makes no difference to the points total Leicester’s narrow defeats, coupled with a string of high scoring wins, did enough for the Foxes’ goal difference for them to scrape into the top six. Leicester’s 6-0 thumping of Ipswich, their biggest league win for 30 years, was also the joint biggest win in the Championship this season. Ipswich were also the victims in Blackpool’s 6-0 win early in the campaign.

5 – On two occasions Leicester surged up the Championship table with five match winning runs. Whilst five other clubs could boast a similar winning run, no side in the division managed it twice.

9 – Which makes it all the more perplexing that this season also contained Leicester’s longest winless run for six years. A nine game stretch without a win that began in March put the manager’s position in serious doubt. It was part of a longer malaise which saw Leicester drop from 2nd to 7th. Rob Kelly and Paulo Sousa did not survive similar slumps in form. It remains to be seen whether Leicester’s late rally will be enough to save Nigel Pearson’s job.

23 – Perhaps the answer to Leicester’s slump can be found in this number. Leicester’s squad for the 2012/13 campaign had an average age of just 23. It was the third youngest in the entire Football League. It was also one of the smallest. Only Derby County used fewer players than the Foxes this season. Of course whether Nigel Pearson survives the summer or not will inform us of how much choice the manager had in this approach. With the onset of Financial Fair Play looming, and 11 squad members still on contracts signed during or just before Sven-Goran Eriksson’s tenure, the manger may have been given little option but to invest in youth.

16 – Of course the youthful squad argument doesn’t explain fully why some other more experienced players went off the boil at the same time. In January, David Nugent had 14 goals to his name and looked set to become the first Leicester City player since Gary Lineker to score 20 league goals at this level in a single season. In the end he had to settle for 16 in all competitions. By no means a bad return, but it could have been so much more.

68 – And so could the Foxes’ points total. 68 points was the lowest total ever for a side reaching the playoffs in a 24 team second tier. In the four seasons prior to this one that total would only have been enough to finish 8th. In 2006/07 a side on 68 points would have finished 11th. It was good enough this time, but Leicester fans should be under no illusions that the side were extremely fortunate to limp over the line.

48 – The Foxes might have finished the season with what was statistically the third best defence in the league (they conceded 48 goals). But when it came to the business end of the season City let themselves down. No clean sheet in 13 was the Foxes longest run without one since 2006/07. In the run up to the playoffs they conceded twice in each of their last five league matches. But again, it’s with noting that in 48 Championship matches only Watford were able to find the net three times against Leicester.

193 – And up until February, Leicester’s defence had been playing its part in ensuring the Foxes outshot their opponents. Over the course of the whole season City had 193 more attempts than the opposition. An average of more than four attempts per game. In fact Leicester had more attempts and attempts on target than any other Championship side. Conversely, as only the divisions fourth highest scorers, it can easily be argued they weren’t clinical enough.

4770 – Kasper Schmeichel played every minute of every Leicester City match this season, all 53 of them. Not far behind was captain Wes Morgan who missed only the Foxes League Cup defeat to Burton Albion, 87 minutes of the home defeat by Millwall, and the following 2-0 loss at Barnsley. Both players only have a year left on their respective contracts. The club will do well to get each of them to put pen to paper this summer.

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Match Preview: Watford vs Leicester City

Whilst the footballing gods have not looked kindly on Leicester fans celebrating too early this season the Foxes go into the second leg with several advantages.

Of course the most vital one is the one goal lead the Foxes deservedly earned in the first leg. No side since Ipswich in 2004 has failed to reach the final after gaining a first leg lead on home soil.

The Foxes know avoiding defeat will be enough to reach Wembley. It’s comforting to know 12 other sides got at least a point at Vicarage Road this season.

Better still, Leicester have lost a league game by more than one goal just once this season. The 2-0 defeat at Barnsley was also the only league game this term in which club captain Wes Morgan did not start.

That said, Watford are boosted by the return of Troy Deeney and are by no means out of this yet. There hasn’t been much time for Gianfranco Zola to lift his side after two straight defeats. But Watford haven’t failed to score in consecutive league matches all season. Leicester are almost certainly going to need a goal.

City though are in the driving seat. That defeat at Barnsley was their last on the road. Provided the Foxes don’t perform as badly as they did that day, they have every chance of making the final. What an incredible turnaround that would be.

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Match Preview: Leicester City vs Watford

The problem with trying to use statistics to gain insight into the playoffs is a simple one. It can’t be done.

So much from this season now counts for nothing.

Leicester City are in the playoffs having gained the lowest points total for 6th place in a 24 team second tier. Watford, 11 points better off, could already have been promoted. It means nothing.

Leicester haven’t beaten Watford this season, then again the Foxes hadn’t beaten Tranmere or Stoke on route to the 1994 and 1996 playoff finals. It means nothing.

Leicester had more shots (325) and more shots on target (242) than any other Championship side. Watford have scored more goals (85) than any other team in the division. It means nothing.

In matches involving the four playoff contenders Watford took the most points (13) and Leicester the fewest (5). It means nothing.

Leicester have taken 9 points from their last available 18, Watofrd have taken 7. It means nothing.

There are many playoff myths. The reality is these games are often decided by the team which handles the pressure best.

Leicester coped with the pressure last weekend, Watford didn’t. It’s led many pundits to conclude the Foxes are slight favourites in the tie. In all probability, it means nothing.

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Match Preview: Nottingham Forest vs Leicester City

So are Leicester going to scrape into the playoffs with the lowest points total ever in a 24 team Championship?

We won’t have long to find out.

The equation for the Foxes is simple, win and hope that Bolton don’t. In the Championship, crazier things have happened. But will they happen to a Leicester side that hasn’t won away since January, and a Bolton side that’s won their last 8 home games in a row?

Leicester’s last league win at the City Ground is now 41 long years ago. In that time the Foxes have thrown away two goal leads, conceded last minute equalisers, been subject to highly debatable refereeing decisions and catastrophic errors of their own.

A Leicester defence that has conceded twice in each of it’s last four games will need to tighten up for the Foxes to have any hope.

But then again, when it has mattered on the final day, Nigel Pearson has delivered. His Carlisle United side survived in 1999 thanks to the heroics of goalkeeper Jimmy Glass. His Southampton team won on the final day for only the third time in his 14 match reign to keep the Saints up in 2008, and relegate Leicester.

And thankfully Forest are hardly in red hot form themselves. Last weekend’s win at Millwall was their first in seven games.

But even if Nigel Pearson can pull it off, City will need help.

Blackpool will be taking over 3,000 fans to the Reebok Stadium, each of them hoping to put a dent in their rivals playoff hopes.

And there are some positives to point to. Since Paul Ince took over Blackpool have lost just three of his 13 games in charge. Having already secured safety it might be the away side that plays with more freedom.

The reverse fixture was a 2-2 draw, in fact Blackpool are unbeaten in four against the Trotters. And if Blackpool do score first Leicester really are in business. The tangerines are one of only two Championship sides yet to lose when opening the scoring this season.

It’s going to be one of those afternoons. Cross everything.

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Match Preview: Leicester City vs Watford

There’s little doubt about it, this is Leicester City’s biggest home match in three years.

Just how important the result will prove to be depends on your outlook. Many have put this down as a ‘must-win’, a category often overused but probably not in this instance.

A draw is only enough if you believe the following two things;

1) That Bolton will lose at Cardiff or at home to Blackpool.
2) That Leicester can get their first League win at Nottingham Forest since 1972.

If Leicester lose this one their season could mathematically be over by 5 p.m. tomorrow.

And defeat is hardly unthinkable.

Despite recent losses at Peterborough and Millwall, Watford posess the Championship’s best away record. Against the Championship’s top half they’ve won seven times on the road, losing only three.

Leicester’s defence hasn’t kept a clean sheet in 11. It must now try to keep out the Championship’s top scorers. The Hornets have scored 82 goals, 13 more than Cardiff who have the second highest tally in the division. If Leicester’s back-line offers the visitors as much time and space as Balckburn did last weekend then the floodgates could open.

But Leicester look like they have some fight left. Coming back from behind to claim points against Bolton and Crystal Palace suggests at least the Foxes will not let their season end with a wimper.

Watford’s last win here was also their first and only victory at the Walkers/King Power Stadium. Danny Webber’s late winner against a side that had been made favourites for promotion in 2004/05 showed that it would take Leicester longer than a year to get back to the Premier League. No-one thought it would take nine years. Defeat here would almost certainly confine City to a decade in the wilderness.

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The race for the playoffs: a guide

The race for the playoffs is going down to the wire. Here’s a handy guide to the teams who still have a realistic shot of making it.

4th) Brighton & Hove Albion

Points: 69
Goal Difference: +23
Remaining Fixtures: Leeds United (a), Wolverhampton Wanderers (h)
Points gained in reverse fixtures: 2
Form: W2 D4 L0 F11 A4

Brighton’s resounding win over Blackpool looks to have all but secured their place in the playoffs. One more win will do it. If Leicester lose at home to Watford on Friday Brighton would all but mathematically secure a top six finish with a point at Elland Road thanks to their exellent goal difference.

5th) Crystal Palace

Points: 67
Goal Difference: +10
Remaining Fixtures: Blackburn Rovers (a), Millwall (a), Peterborough United (h)
Points gained in reverse fixtures: 7
Form: W0 D2 L4 F2 A13

The Eagles need five points from their remaining fixtures to guarantee a playoff spot, but theirs is a fixture list few will envy. All three of the sides Palace have to play might still be desperate for points. Ian Holloway’s men are without a win in seven but will almost certainly have to scratch a win from somewhere to avoid their season ending on 4th May.

6th) Bolton Wanderers

Points: 66
Goal Difference: +8
Remaining Fixtures: Cardiff City (a), Blackpool (h)
Points gained in reverse fixtures: 4
Form: W4 D0 L2 F11 A8

Bolton are peaking at exactly the right time. If they make the playoffs few will fancy their chances against the Trotters. But Dougie Freedman’s men could find themselves outside the top six by the time they head for a tricky looking away trip to Cardiff. If Leicester take at least a point at home to Watford their superior goal difference will send Bolton 7th. A home match against a struggling Blackpool looks a good bet for 3 points, so next weekend will be pivitol to Bolton’s chances of making a swift return to the Premier League.

7th) Leicester City

Points: 65
Goal Difference: +23
Remaining fixtures: Watford (h), Nottingham Forest (a)
Points gained in reverse fixtures: 1
Form: W1 D3 L2 F8 A10

Leicester’s destiny is no longer in their own hands and their fixture list couldn’t be much tougher. Thanks to thier goal difference four points could be enough for Leicester but only if Bolton lose one of their remaining two games, Crystal Palace take just two points from nine, or Brighton lose both of their remaining games. A point at home to Watford will ensure the Foxes have something to play for on the final day. But given their hopeless away record at the City Ground, Leicester could really do with winning their final home match.

8th) Nottingham Forest

Points: 64
Goal Difference: +4
Remaining Fixtures: Millwall (a), Leicester City (h)
Points gained in reverse fixtures: 1
Form: W0 D4 L2 F4 A8

In mid-March the was a four point gap between Forest and 7th, now they’re two points behind Bolton and know that realistically maximum points are required. If Forest fail to win at Millwall and Crystal Palace, Bolton and/or Leicester win next weekend then it’s all over for Billy Davies’ men. That being said, the likelyhood is the final match of the season could just as easily decide if it is to be Forest or Leicester who creep into the playoffs on the last day.

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Match Preview: Crystal Palace vs Leicester City

It’s one thing to have your destiny in your own hands. It’s quite another to overcome three sides you’ve yet to beat this season to claim a top six finish.

As discussed previously, Leicester probably only need to win two of their remaining three games. But does anyone really fancy going to the City Ground looking for a first league win since the Birch was in short shorts? Exactly.

So to make life slightly easier for themselves, Leicester really need a win a Selhurst Park, and there are reasons to be cheerful.

For a start, Crystal Palace can’t buy a goal. Ian Holloway’s men haven’t found the back of the next for 454 minutes. In their last two home matches relegation threatened Barnsley secured a draw and Birmingham City thrashed the Eagles 4-0.

Even better the influential Palace captain Jedinak, who bossed the midfield in the season’s first meeting between these sides, is serving the second of a two-match ban.

This is a real opportunity for Leicester consolidate their position back amongst the top six.

But as much as Palace’s recent form (2 points from 18) has boosted confidence of a rare away win, Leicester still have many improvements to make.

Goal starved Eagles fans are likely to be licking their lips over Leicester’s recent defensive record. The Foxes haven’t kept a clean sheet in 10 and can no longer boast to be the Championship’s meanest defence.

Glen Murray might have scored in just one of his last nine appearances for the Eagles, but his 30 goals this season is not a record to treat lightly.

And Leicester’s away record is hardly anything to write home about either. Not since January have they won three points on the road (a 4-0 win at Bristol City). Nigel Pearson’s men have only won away at one side in the top half, Middlesbrough.

So how to win here? Well avoiding calamity in the first five minutes would be good. In the last five games Leicester have seen an own-goal (Barnsley), a red card (Millwall) and a penalty (Bolton) put them on the back foot. In the Championship only one game in eight is won by the side conceding first.

There is renewed hope and opportunities to win at Selhurst Park have been rare this season. Leicester could really do with taking their chance.

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