Leonardo Ulloa, Wes Morgan, Jamie Vardy, Leicester
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Wes Morgan talks Mahrez, Rodgers, Vardy and the inspiration behind Leicester’s 2016 triumph

| 07.12.2021

In the second part of Ladbrokes’ exclusive interview with Wes Morgan, the former Leicester captain talks about the inspiration behind their glorious title-winning success five years ago, who will win this season’s Premier League, plus his thoughts on Riyad Mahrez, Brendan Rodgers and Jamie Vardy.

In the first part the now retired defender relives his memories of the Foxes’ title-winning season and his prediction for Sunday’s game ahead of the launch of the 5-A-Side between Leicester and Newcastle.

Arsenal’s victory celebrations spurred us on to win Premier League

If you’re asking me to pinpoint the moment where I truly believed we could win the Premier League, it would have to be after beating Manchester City 3-1 in their backyard. It was a fantastic performance from the team and it’s the first time I honestly believed we could do it.

But immediately after that came the Arsenal game at the Emirates, where we took a loss late on. That was a big, big blow to our confidence and our belief; Danny Welbeck scored late on after we’d taken the lead in the first half. Danny Simpson got sent off and things just went downhill late on.

I remember us all sitting in the changing rooms afterwards thinking ‘what’s happened here?’ We were all upset, and no one was really talking to each other.

But I remember being on the coach on the way home after the game… one of the boys got social media up on his phone and showed us videos of the Arsenal team celebrating in their changing room. You’d have honestly thought they’d won the league. We started looking at each other and saying “look at that; we’re little old Leicester, it’s our second season in the Premier League and they’re celebrating like they’ve just beaten Barcelona.”

Wes Morgan, Leicester v Sevilla

Those pictures and videos affected us; if anything they made us more determined. Look back at the rest of the fixtures that season and you’ll see we didn’t lose another game after that. It was a key moment in the season. We looked at the negative and turned it into a positive. The run we went on after that defeat was incredible, and I think those images of Arsenal celebrating were in the back of all of our minds.

If you look at that season as a whole, you’ll be able to point out so many key moments, but the biggest ones have always been how we responded after a loss. Bouncing back is so, so vital – especially when you’re fighting at the top of the table.

After the Arsenal match we played Norwich back at home. We went into the game adamant we weren’t going to let the previous result impact our performance. We were focused on putting on a performance we knew we were capable of, but sometimes the opposition makes it hard for you.

It doesn’t always work out exactly how you plan, and in that game I just remember us throwing absolutely everything at Norwich and we just couldn’t put the ball in the net. We couldn’t get through them for 89 minutes, and then Leonardo Ulloa delivers in the last minute and nicks the three points for us.

You can see what that result meant to us as a unit in the celebrations after the game. Late winners like that are sometimes more special than winning five games in a row, just purely because of the circumstances. There were many key moments throughout that campaign, but that game would definitely be one I’d expect to see featuring in a movie about our story. As for who plays Ulloa, though, I don’t know who’s going to get that role. It would have to be some kind of South American character; my knowledge of those actors is pretty limited though!

No-one thought Mahrez would make the big time

First of all, knowing Riyad [Mahrez], the idea of him going to Scotland on a trial, with it being so cold up there, I can just imagine him shivering on the pitch; the ball would’ve been coming to him and he probably wouldn’t have been warm enough to show them what he can do. He’s a slight player, he’s very slim and lightweight and he just wouldn’t have been a right fit for that St Mirren team – which is obviously sad for them.

Sometimes players slip through the net though; look at N’Golo Kante – we got him at a time when you would’ve thought – knowing the type of player he is – he would’ve been picked up long before we came along. Sometimes it’s just about being in the right place at the right time, having the right scouting network and giving these players a bit of time to settle in.

With Riyad, he was very raw when he first came to Leicester. We had another similar player in Anthony Knockaert who was on fire for us at the time. They were similar in how they liked to pick the ball up out wide and come inside using their skills, scoring great goals. Knockaert was great for us – especially at Championship level.

Riyad Mahrez, Leicester, Wes Morgan

Riyad came in with a great ability; you could see he had something but it took him some time to settle in and get used to the physicality of the English game. Eventually he found his feet, his confidence and consistency built, and he stopped being this tricky player with no end result and started to put everything in his game together to become the player we see today.

He’s always been a very confident player who liked to have a joke with his team-mates. He didn’t speak English when he first signed for us but he quickly learned the language. He was always very confident in his ability; he’s the type of player that would be doing flick-ups and all sorts of tricks in the changing room before kick-off. I’d be saying “Riyad, save your energy for the match… you’re going to be tired!”, but he wouldn’t have any of it.

None of us looked at him at the time and thought he’d go on to become the player he is today, but that’s how football works sometimes. He joined a team of very good players, but that was about it. He got better and better, and learned a lot about the game; when to do tricks and when to keep things simple. You could never say at the time that he’d turn out to be one of the best players in the world and that kids would grow up wanting to be Riyad Mahrez. It’s funny how things turn out.

City to win title and Rangnick to bag top-four spot at United

I think it’s fairly clear at this stage that there are three teams in with a chance of winning the Premier League this year. My opinion on who’s going to top the table seems to change every week at the moment, though.

At the start of the season I’d have said Chelsea, then I thought Liverpool, and now I reckon it’ll be Manchester City. City have got a lot of players coming back from injury and I can only see them getting stronger at this point. They’re really starting to find their rhythm now so I’m tipping them for the title.

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The frightening thing is that they score so many goals without a recognised striker half the time. It works in their favour though, because all of their attacking players are constantly rotating so it’s a nightmare to defend against. You’re unsure who to mark, you’re getting dragged all over the place and you have to have eyes in the back of your head. That’s the beauty of Manchester City.

As for the fourth spot, it’s right there for the taking. I’m interested to see how Manchester United get on over the next few weeks now that they’ve got the new manager in. They’ve got the depth, they’ve got the players, but they’re just not performing. If Ralf Rangnick can get them firing on all cylinders, then they’re going to be a force to be reckoned with. I think they’ll come good and finish in the top four.

Chelsea would be perfect fit for me

I’d love to play in this Chelsea side, though. If I could slot myself into any team – Leicester aside – in the league right now, it would be them. They play with a back three, so I could see myself playing in the middle of that back three, maybe with Antonio Rudiger on my left, maybe Trevoh Chalobah on my right, or whoever it might be. Me just sitting there; I think I’d fit nicely in that system.

I enjoy watching that team at the moment, I love how they attack, how high and wide their full-backs get. Then you’ve got the three sitting defenders and the two midfielders in front. I’d love to play under Thomas Tuchel – he looks like a great manager to work for.

Harry Redknapp said I deserved an England call-up… I’d played 25 times for Jamaica!

Harry Redknapp said I was very unlucky not to have received an England call-up in 2016… it’s so funny because at the time I think I had about 25 caps for Jamaica. I brought it up at Soccer Aid earlier this year when he was managing us:

“Remember when you said Wes Morgan had been fantastic all season and you were surprised he hadn’t had a call-up for England?”

He was in stitches; he took it really well. After I broke the ice with it, he just kept bringing it up all week in the training camp, telling me I should’ve played for England. It was brilliant and he’s a top man. At the time he just didn’t realise I was a fully fledged Jamaican international. To be fair, because of the season I’d just had with Leicester, if I hadn’t already committed to Jamaica, I’d have received a couple of caps for England. But that was a decision I made way back in my career and that was that; there’s no regrets.

Martin Compston and Kem Cetinay stood out at Soccer Aid

I really enjoyed playing in Soccer Aid actually. I was a little concerned at first, obviously because of the injuries I’d had at the back end of my career. I’ve had a team of physios looking after me so I was worried about how my body would react to the game, but it was a really good week.

I didn’t know what to expect at first so I went into it with a bit of a serious mindset, thinking about the training camp. I thought it was going to be really serious but it was nothing like that. You’ve got your footballers, musicians, reality TV stars, it was such a relaxing atmosphere – lots of jokes, lots of fun, and all for a great cause. It’s the first time I’ve done anything like that. Even turning up for the game day was strange; I try and prepare myself mentally for the game in my usual pre-match routine, but with these guys there was music blasting on the coach, there was a red carpet waiting for us at the stadium and everyone was getting announced; I thought it was great.

Martin Compston, Soccer Aid, Wes Morgan

Martin Compston really surprised me, the guy from Line Of Duty; he’s really good. He played right-back and was really determined all game, in everyone’s face. He was fantastic, clapping his hands all throughout the game, proper determined. You could tell he had some ability and experience of playing, he definitely stood out for me.

The other lad I liked a lot was the striker for us, the lad from Love Island… Kem Cetinay. He was quite good. To be honest, he was on my team but I genuinely thought to myself ‘if he was playing against me, he might cause me some problems!’ Just his sheer desire, and willingness to keep running and running, he was a nightmare. I was glad he was on my side because he’d have caused me more than a few problems if he was on the other team.

Brendan Rodgers will only leave Leicester when he feels he’s completed the project

I’ve got the utmost respect for Brendan [Rodgers]. He came at a time when Leicester City needed a manager of his calibre and capabilities. What he’s done so far in his managerial career has been fantastic, and he arrived at Leicester when, if we’re being honest, we were a bit unsure as to where we were going. He’s given us a real identity and direction.

His philosophies, the way he goes about his work, what he demands from his players is incredible. He’s one of the best managers I’ve played under, and I think he’s one of the best managers out there. He’s got this new way of working which has been different for all of the players at the club. They’ll all say the same thing; the way he goes about his day-to-day business, the training, the way he manages the players, his thinking, tactically and technically, he ticks all the boxes.

We’re very fortunate to have him. When my time with the club was up, he mentioned how pivotal a player and a person I was to Leicester City. For someone of his stature to say such things about you, it’s fantastic to hear. He’s worked with some of the best players in the world, so to hear those words about me make me really proud.

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Like any top player or manager, Brendan’s ambitious. He wants trophies on his CV and he wants his career to be a success. I’m sure he’s flattered to be linked with top, top teams in the game, but at the same time I know he’s a very loyal man. He’s very dedicated, and he’s created a project at Leicester which he’ll want to see through.

For now, I have no concerns whatsoever about him leaving Leicester. I think he still has unfinished business with the club, and he wants to prove more, improving the club even further.

He’s always going to be linked with top teams, especially when managers leave and jobs become available. But for now I see him sticking with the club and completing his project. Once he’s done that, and only then, I’m sure he’ll look at moving on.

Jamie Vardy was never going to leave Leicester after our title win

I never thought Jamie Vardy would leave the club in the summer of 2016, to be honest. I know Riyad Mahrez and N’Golo Kante moved on and there was rightly speculation around Vardy’s future because of what he’d achieved that season. He was our main man and we’d just done something really special.

Knowing the type of person he is, I just know it wasn’t the time for him to even consider leaving the club. He played such a huge part in things and I know he wanted to continue to build on the work he’d done. It’s completely normal when a club like Leicester win the league that bigger teams are going to want to come in and take your best players. It was a big, big job done by everyone behind the scenes to keep Vardy at the club. Vards would’ve been flattered by the links with Arsenal in particular, but deep down he knew his heart was Leicester.

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As for myself, you always hear rumours here and there. Your agent will pass things on and then it’s up to you as a player as to whether or not you want to explore those options. But for me, it was never really an option. Obviously you want to play in a great team and be successful, but what we created at Leicester, and with me being such an integral part of it, I wanted to continue to build on what we’d achieved.

I feel that I’ve been a part of the regeneration of Leicester, helping them get to where they are today. For me to have left the club at any point would’ve been a regret, I just know it.

There would have been links at the time, but Leicester is my heart and I never really saw myself moving anywhere else. The main one of note was a link to Newcastle United. The rest would’ve been speculation but that was one which did come up. I think Rafa Benitez was manager at the time, but it’s a bit too cold for me up in that part of the country! I never thought I’d leave though, and I’m glad I didn’t.

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Warren Barner