Leicester City: Are Owners Ready For Fight?

The manager is pretty resilient and the squad is not without quality (though there's a worry about a lack of goals) but are the owners prepared for the battle?

Last Updated: 05/08/14 at 11:29 Post Comment

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Leicester City players celebrate winning

Leicester City players celebrate winning

LAST SEASON
Championship
1st, 102pts, +40 GD FA Cup Third round League Cup Quarter-finals Top league scorer Dave Nugent 20

Manager Nigel Pearson (since November 2011; also 2008-10; age 50) Odds on being first out of his job 17-1 (7th=)

Players in Leonardo Ulloa (Brighton, initial £8m), Matthew Upson (Brighton, free), Ben Hamer (Charlton, free), Marc Albrighton (Aston Villa, free), Jack Barmby, Louis Rowley (both Manchester United, free)

Players out Lloyd Dyer (Watford, free), Zak Whitbread (Derby), Neil Danns (Bolton), George Taft (Burton), Ben Frempah (Ross County), Paul Gallagher (Preston, loan), Sean St Ledger (the most prominent name among those released but a starter just once in the promotion campaign).

Club turnover in 2012-13 £19.6m

Wage bill in 2012-13 £26.1m

Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha wants to be a big name in football. Leicester City's Thai owner struck an initially realistic note when interviewed back home by the The Nation in May, saying: "We want to stay in the EPL as long as possible." A natural enough ambition and one that accepts the possibility - the likelihood, even - of relegation later or sooner for a club of Leicester's size. But the power at King Power continued: "We won't take the huge leap to challenge the league's top five clubs immediately...it will take a huge amount of money, possibly 10 billion Thai baht (£180m), to get there. But that doesn't put us off. I am asking for three years and we'll be there."

It does sound a decent amount, £180m. Ten years ago it would sound enormous. But across three years it is £60m a season; factoring in wages it will buy you two-and-a-half top-five players, to add to a squad that possesses none. And even that assumes that you will not have to overpay to compensate for the risk players would be taking that they would be kicking around the divisions lower reaches rather than challenging for honours. As Kevin Phillips, now in a coaching role, said: "Everton spending £28m on Romelu Lukaku is an example of what we're coming up against."

There are also existing losses, albeit that they will be assuaged by the value of promotion to the Premier League. Leicester lost £30m in 2012-13 and will have swallowed more red ink before and since. City were reportedly among the clubs that objected to the Football League's financial fair play proposals, along with Blackburn and Wolves. Plenty of clubs have tried to spend their way to the Premier League; in the Championship as a division, the Guardian's David Conn calculated, in May, total debt exceeds £1bn while total wages exceeded total income, £460m to £430m, for that 2012-13 season. But Leicester do occupy a special place in recent football financial history, for the way that administration helped them shed the debts that followed relegation from the Premier League in 2002. That helped lead to the introduction of points deductions for so many subsequently stricken clubs - and here Leicester are, back in the top flight thanks to a sugar daddy swallowing substantial debts.

Vichai talked of "one step at a time" but the grandiose plans are reminiscent of those of other ingenues - Venky's, for instance, or Vincent Tan. Leaving aside the stadium, there is no name change or shirt change nonsense. Most supporters will simply be grateful at this stage to be back in the top flight and, while Nigel Pearson has clearly benefited from the largesse, he deserves a lot of credit. But one wonders if he will go the way of Malky Mackay at Cardiff if the season does not pan out as Vichai hopes.

The fixture computer has been unkind, with home games against Everton and Arsenal either side of a trip to Stamford Bridge. September is a little easier, with the away games at Stoke and Crystal Palace, but Manchester United will be tricky visitors to the King Power in between. There will surely be defeats for a side beaten once in the league since December 7, and that four days after the promotion celebrations has officially begun.

Vichai said: "We have to be adaptable when we play 'big' teams. But the important thing is we're going with a belief that we can achieve. I want to set high standards for ourselves...The boys are really looking forward to playing with some of the best teams in the world." There will be early and perhaps painful tests for this theory and it is not a good sign that the only major signing at this stage, Leonardo Ulloa from Brighton, lacks Premier League experience, even if any Championship winners have some quality and taking the title with 102 points is impressive. Ulloa adds strength to a forward line that has lost Phillips and England legend Dave Nugent knows his job. But you can concede nearly a goal a game in the Championship if you believe you have the strikers to score close enough to two; a major readjustment will be needed.

In January, Pearson was interviewed by the Daily Telegraph and said: "The owners like people to do their jobs. People ask me: 'Have I spoken to the owners?' No. There's nothing wrong with that. I saw them in the summer, seen them occasionally this season and they enjoy watching it from afar, or having a low-key influence." Will they be so hands off now? And if they remain remote, will they understand the gulf between the divisions?

Pearson, battle-hardened in football terms as both a player and manager, is under few illusions as to the task in hand, and won't assume much about the opening-day game against Everton from the friendly victory against them in Thailand. He said last month: "I have been asked if staying up is just enough and that has to be the bottom line." At the same time he expressed cautious optimism - "I believe we have a squad which is capable of making the transition. We are not going to dominate like we did last season, that goes without saying, but there is an air of confidence among the players that they believe they have the ability to perform. I fully agree. I think we have a number of players who will do very well for us in the Premier League." This is certainly better than going around the place saying: "We are doomed!" and the suggestion from recent seasons is that there are a lot of poor sides around suggest that they are not. The confidence could take a fearsome battering from those opening fixtures, though.

Pearson told the Telegraph's Henry Winter about his background, his 'normal' life by football standards - taking the train in to work from Sheffield to Leicester, going to his local, not living glued to his mobile but getting away from the game. He says he would have joined the RAF but for football, not in the manner of someone talking up their martial credentials but of someone who enjoys walking holidays but who abandoned travelling the length of the Pennine Way when his hiking partner went to the Falklands as a helicopter mechanic.

He went back to Leicester with unfinished business, and did not succeed straight away, with play-off semi-final agony in 2012-13, when Anthony Knockaert's penalty to win it was saved 20 seconds before Troy Deeney scored Watford's winner. Whatever the season throws at Pearson, he will cope. You can't express the same confidence about the owners.

Philip Cornwall

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Readers' Comments

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sn'tthis strange. Last season we were worried that we were stuck with a Dinosaur in Moyes while Liverpool and Everton were disappearing into the distance with their young, spritely managerts, playing football from heaven. Progressive managers, they said. Managers who understand the modern game.........

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Rodgers: The pressure's on

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eing consistently and unrelentingly dog turd really takes it out of you. Try shadow boxing. That's what it's like watching Liverpool, punching thin air.

sinbadsdad
Neville: Reds need a rest

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ood list, some crackers in there. For me, I'd have had Steve McManaman for Liverpool away at Celtic in the UEFA cup in 1997. I was in the ground that night and everyone kept screaming at him to make a pass, but he just kept going and going and going...brilliant, and in the dying minutes too.

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