Nigel Pearson has only been in the Leicester job for three weeks, but already he’s following the well trodden path of recent City managers, he’s signing players, lots of players. Three joined the club this week, Bulgarian international Aleksander Tunchev is likely to make it four and the manager has refused to say how many more are likely to follow him.
The number of signings a manager makes is an interesting issue, so I’ve gone back over the last 16 seasons and totalled up the number signings and departures to see if there is some sort of critical mass which results in success or failure. The results do not look good if Pearson intends to sign players at anything like his current rate.
On average, during the summers of 1992-2002 Leicester purchased three players before the start of each campaign. The highest number came in 2000, the start of Peter Taylor’s reign, when the club made 5 additions. The lowest was the summer of 1998 when Martin O’Neil added a miserly one player to his squad. This steady pattern generally matches City’s rise, particularly in the O’Neil years. The one exception to this was the 1996/7 season when eight were added to the squad midseason. This resulted in a run of 9 games without a win with City only securing their Premiership place with one game to spare. The lesson: a settled team is a successful team.
Following City’s promotion back to the Premiership in 2003, the pattern changes dramatically. 12 players were brought in during that summer, with a further 5 added during the season. For the first time in the club’s history, an entirely new team of players had been brought in during a single campaign. The result: disaster. Only three players started 75% or more of City’s games that season; Ian Walker, Muzzy Izzet and James Scowcroft. Lacking a spine, the team suffered relegation with a pathetic inevitability.
But the lesson had not been learned. In the summer following relegation City shipped out a staggering 21 players, replacing them with 11 new summer signings and a further six midseason. This time just one player, David Connolly, started 75% or more games. The 2005/06 pre-season saw a further 8 new faces and 12 exits but at least the club seemed to be moving towards stability. That season Joey Gudjonnson, Nils-Eric Johansson, Patrick Kisnorbo, Alan Maybury and Patrick McCarthy reached the 75% mark.
Skipping ahead to the 2007/08 season and you should know what’s coming. There were 11 summer signings and four midseason but what was really incredible about 2007/09 was the number of loan signings made. No less than 12 players joined the Foxes on loan last season. To put it in perspective, Leicester had made more loan signings in one season than the club had made in 12 years between 1992 and 2004. Last season three players reached 75% starts; Patrick Kisnorbo, Gareth McAuley and Richard Stearman. This probably goes some way to explaining just why City’s defensive record was so good, yet its scoring record so poor.
Clearly, what we can learn from this is that no club can hope to achieve success with the rates of player turnover evidenced in the last few seasons. If Nigel Pearson hopes to dig Leicester City out of League One, he’ll pick stability over signings.