WHAT a success story this season has been for one of my old teams, Leicester City.
I joined Leicester in 2004 just after they had been relegated from the Premier League and if you’d told me then it would be a decade before they’d be back in the top tier I would never have believed it.
It was an ageing but talented squad I joined with a fantastic stadium and training ground, but also with huge financial problems. The glory years of Martin O’Neill had gone, replaced with a managerial merry-go-round which had me in the centre.
Following 10 managers in 10 years, Leicester now find themselves Premier League champions, but how has this happened?
Many of the current staff were present when I was there, including the physio, goalkeeping coach, kit man, club secretary, chief executive and so on.
The little known Jon Rudkin was academy manager when I was at the club but in the years since, his power and authority has grown and now he is head of football operations.
He has the final say on everything, including the appointment of Claudio Ranieri, a decision which was met with derision at the time.
I would bump into Jon at the training ground and discuss football at the younger age groups and he was good friends with Tony Lochlan, who became Roy Keane’s assistant at Sunderland.
Gary Lineker famously tweeted; ‘Claudio Ranieri? Really?’ but Jon made a calculated gamble knowing that he was signing an experienced, calm person, who if nothing else would steady the ship.
Claudio Ranieri? Really?
— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) 13 July 2015
Although Nigel Pearson left, his backroom staff did not. I know some staff resign as a sign of loyalty and solidarity, but Pearson told his previous staff to hold fire which proved to be sage advice.
The physio, David Rennie, goalkeeping coach Mike Stowell and first team coach Craig Shakespeare are long time colleagues from my playing days there. They remained at the club and there was an element of playing it a day at a time to see if both sides could work together, Ranieri and the current staff.
There was no impulsive decision-making on both sides, with Ranieri listening to the staff and taking on board what they said.
Google spent years and considerable money on what makes a team successful with Project Aristotle and one of the key findings was that all members contribute to a conversation equally.
This resonated with me when Shakespeare told me how Ranieri wanted the weekly schedule to be different than what had worked previously. However, he listened to the current staff with their rationale and how keeping the same structure would maintain the momentum from last season and, like all good leaders, he let them voice their opinions and listened.
Google could have saved a fortune by analysing the infamous Liverpool Boot Room, where all the coaches would congregate in a room beside the changing rooms and discuss football and tactics in an informal way and contribute equally, with each having an opinion listened to.
The Italian was also keen for the players to train more, with one day off a week. Again, Shakespeare and physio Rennie emphasised the toll the league programme takes. Ranieri listened and kept the same training schedule, which was two days off a week – Sunday and Wednesday.
This didn’t alter throughout the season, maintaining continuity but also allowing the staff to contribute to the conversation so they were involved in the process.
When I was at Leicester we changed managers a few times and with each change brought a huge turnaround in what days we trained, when we trained and how often we trained.
Once, after a defeat by QPR during which I scored but we lost, the manager called the whole team in to train on a Sunday.
I remember driving in to training with Martin Keown, although the players were none too pleased when they realised there were no staff present, except the physio. The players carried out their duties and went straight home.
The training schedule was reactive and impulsive, results driven with no clear structure which led to a chaotic feeling.
The open communication Ranieri has with his staff also filtered down to the players’ area where the open plan layout was key to the discussion of training and tactics in a relaxed setting, as players warmed up or had a massage – much like the Anfield Boot Room – but with the players involved in the process.
The openness of the training complex contributed to the equal flow of conversation as the gym and warm up allowed for tactics and the flow of information to be easily shared.
The sight of all the players driving to Jamie Vardy’s house to watch the Spurs v Chelsea match was great to see, but one which wouldn’t have happened when I was at Leicester.
We had a collection of players who lived all over the country and as soon as training was finished everyone was in their car to drive back to Manchester or London and everywhere in between – not many in Leicester.
This scenario didn’t lend itself to the team spirit necessary to gain success and I know now Leicester include clauses such as a radius the players must live within, which I believe is vital to train and live right, whilst also living locally helps foster team spirit.
Leicester’s success this season was down to keeping things simple, be that tactics, formations, training and I for one am delighted that – like the Anfield Boot Room – old school is now the new school.