The Rise and Fall of Leicester City

The gradual decline of Leicester City has been one that has caught many by surprise. From defying the odds to lift the Premier League title in 2016, to relegation to the Sky Bet Championship in 2023 – it has been a whirlwind few years in the East Midlands.

Not to mention lifting the Emirates FA Cup and reaching a European semi-final. But where did it all go wrong for the Foxes?

The Rise

The appointment of Claudio Ranieri raised some people’s eyebrows ahead of the 2015/16 campaign. Previously under the leadership of Nigel Pearson, Leicester finished six points outside of the relegation zone after narrowly avoiding the drop.

Many of Ranieri’s additions were unknown as well. N’Golo Kanté was brought in for £5.6 million from French side Caen and Robert Huth and Christian Fuchs were signed from Stoke City and Schalke respectively.

In January 2014, unknown quantity Riyad Mahrez arrived from Ligue 2 outfit Le Havre for £400,000. He made a good start at the King Power Stadium, scoring four and assisting three in 30 Premier League appearances.

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Another relegation battle was anticipated to be on the cards at Leicester once again, but this impression was quickly scrapped. They were top of the table at Christmas, mainly helped by an in-form Jamie Vardy.

The Englishman, who had spent beginning of his career in non-league, was on fire – even breaking the record for scoring in consecutive Premier League games, netting for the 11th successive match.

There were many other key cogs in the Leicester machine, from Wes Morgan to Danny Drinkwater, and they all helped in contributing to an extraordinary season.

As the 2015/16 campaign ended, the odds for Leicester getting their hands on the title were becoming ever larger.

The fairytale story was confirmed when Tottenham Hotspur, their closest competitors, drew 2-2 at Chelsea which ensured Leicester would be Premier League champions. This also meant that they would be playing in the UEFA Champions League for the first time in their history in the subsequent campaign.

The following season didn’t bring around the same fairy tale story as some players from the infamous title-winning squad departed. N’Golo Kanté left for Chelsea for £30 million and Jeffrey Schlupp joined Crystal Palace.

Wilfred Ndidi was brought in to replace Kanté and he was a smart addition from Genk. However, Islam Slimani did not live up to the expectation following a club-record £28 million move from Sporting Lisbon.

After a disappointing start to the season, Ranieri was shown the exit in February with the Foxes just one point above the relegation zone. Claude Puel was next in the dugout at the King Power and after relegation concerns, the Foxes finished in 12th place.

Despite an underwhelming league campaign, Leicester progressed to the Champions League quarter-finals after finishing top of their group which included FC Porto, Copenhagen and Club Brugge.

The next season saw an improvement as they moved up three places into ninth. They did this without their star man Mahrez who joined Manchester City before the season kicked off.

Heading into the 2018/19 season, and following a disappointing run, Puel was sacked in February 2019 and was replaced by Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers.

His appointment seemed like a shrewd one, with the Scotsman lifting seven trophies with the Hoops in three seasons.

Rodgers had a good foundation to build upon when he arrived in the East Midlands. Belgian midfielder Youri Tielemans had been signed on loan from AS Monaco in January, while James Maddison, Ricardo Pereira and Caglar Söyüncü had all joined the previous summer.

The ex-Liverpool boss guided them to another ninth place finish as the Foxes looked to challenge for the European spots in the 2019/20 campaign.

In Rodgers’ first transfer window, he signed Tielemans on a permanent basis following an impressive loan stint. Ayoze Pérez joined from Newcastle United, as well as Dennis Praet and young full-back James Justin from Luton Town.

The major outgoing saw centre-back Harry Maguire join Manchester United for £80 million.

The loss of the England international didn’t seem to effect Leicester as they sat in the Champions League places at Christmas. They were unable to maintain this however after they lost out on a slot in Europe’s elite competition on the final day with a defeat to Tottenham Hotspur.

Despite missing out on a Champions League place, they secured a place in the Europa League.

The Foxes were tipped to be in-and-around the European places and they strengthened again in the summer. Wesley Fofana and Timothy Castagne joined from Saint-Étienne and Atalanta respectively for a combined fee of £58 million.

They had another stellar season, finishing in sixth and lifting the FA Cup.

After a quarter-final win over Manchester United, the Foxes were favoured when they faced Southampton in the semi-finals. They secured a 1-0 victory which meant they had a shot at glory in the final against Chelsea.

Tielemans’ goal on the 63-minute mark was enough to ensure Leicester picked up their first ever FA Cup.

In the season after, they began to fall off but eventually secured a ninth place finish. The Foxes did get their hands on another piece of silverware – this time the Community Shield. They also had a memorable run in the Europa Conference League where they were knocked out by AS Roma in the semi-final.

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The Fall

The summer of 2022 was where it began to all go wrong for the Foxes. Club legend and captain Kasper Schmeichel joined OGC Nice and was not replaced, which meant Danny Ward, who before the season had only made one Premier League appearance, was now the first-choice goalkeeper.

The only major summer recruit was centre-back Wout Faes but a lot more was needed.

They went winless in their first seven Premier League games – not picking up their first league victory until the beginning of October.

Leicester began to improve just before the break for the FIFA World Cup which included vital victories over Leeds United, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Everton and West Ham United.

However, upon their return, they went on another disappointing run but that came to an end with impressive back-to-back wins over Aston Villa and Spurs in February.

The realisation of a return to the Championship was well and truly clear with a 1-0 defeat to fellow strugglers Southampton at the start of March. They were lingering in the lower echelons of the table and were stuck in a battle for survival.

Rodgers was sacked a day after April Fools Day following another disappointing loss, this time to Crystal Palace.

Ex-Aston Villa and Norwich City boss Dean Smith took the reigns and there was a slight upturn in form.

He secured two draws against Everton and Leeds as well as a victory over Wolves.

But it was back to square one for the Foxes with poor performances in a 5-3 defeat to Fulham and then a 3-0 home loss against Liverpool.

With two games remaining, it appeared to be a tall order for Smith to pull off a miracle. This was indicated with a tricky away trip to Newcastle United but the spoils were shared and they should have actually taken all three points.

Smith’s side had a number of chances to grab all three points which would have been a major boost for their survival hopes.

Despite it not being in their own hands, they had the opportunity to stay up with a home clash with West Ham on the final day.

They had to rely on Everton dropping points at home to Bournemouth and for them to beat West Ham.

The Hammers’ focus was on their upcoming Europa Conference League final and the Foxes ran out as 2-0 victors with goals from Harvey Barnes and Wout Faes.

However, it wasn’t enough as Everton secured a narrow 1-0 win over Bournemouth – ensuring Leicester would be making a return to the second tier.

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The Future  

It has to be said, Leicester’s squad didn’t look like one that would be relegated. Tielemans has already signed a pre-contract agreement with Aston Villa and a few more are likely to follow suit.

Çağlar Söyüncü’s contract was coming to an end and he has joined Atlético Madrid. James Maddison will be a man in demand this summer, so could Harvey Barnes and Kelechi Iheanacho.

At the time of writing, they have not appointed a new manager as preparations soon turn to the pre-season period.

A number of years ago, Leicester seemed like a team that were going to be constant disrupters to the ‘Big Six’ but they were unable to maintain that feat.

Next season’s Championship is set to be one of the most competitive yet and if the Foxes don’t get their summer recruitment right, they may not to return to the top flight at the first time of asking.

The Author

Jack Patmore

Billericay Town Media Assistant | Work for The Non-League Paper, VAVEL, Phoenix FM & others | Part of The Football Writers Association | BBC Young Reporter Winner 2023

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