A FEW weeks ago, I spoke to Alex Cisak, the former Leicester City back-up goalkeeper who recently signed for Accrington. He suggested that making your way as a young player at the Walkers Stadium hadn’t been easy in the midst of so many changes at the top.
“It was crazy at times,” Cisak said. “We went through 10 or 11 managers in five years [including caretakers]. I think one year, we had six.
“It was really hard to settle, because you would be doing well under one manager, and he would be ready to offer you a contract, but then he would get sacked, so you would have to start again.”
Cisak can reassure himself that he is now at a club who have had the same manager for the last 11 years. Leicester, meanwhile, continue to embrace change, invite it upstairs for coffee and play it some soft music.
There was another managerial change over the summer – the first for two years – and for once, it came as a bit of a surprise. Nigel Pearson, fresh from leading Leicester to the brink of a second successive promotion, upped sticks for Hull, who may or may not have two brass farthings to rub together. No-one on the outside quite knows why.
Paulo Sousa (Champions League winner and friend of Jose Mourinho, with a developing habit of short managerial stays at Championship clubs) left Swansea to replace him, and spoke of leading Leicester into the Premier League within two years.
Then, towards, the end of last week, came a takeover by a Thai consortium. Asia Football Investments bought out Milan Mandaric for an estimated £40m, and everybody at the Walkers Stadium got very excited, particularly when the new owners showed up in the directors’ box for last weekend’s goalless draw with Middlesbrough.
Asia Football Investments is fronted by Aiyawatt Raksriaksorn. He is 25 – younger than eight of Leicester’s starting line-up for this afternoon’s Championship match at Burnley.
The financial clout, though, is provided by his 51-year-old father Vichai, who owns the King Power duty free empire – and is, according to Forbes, the 27th richest man in Thailand. Mandaric, who is a shareholder in the consortium, has remained as chairman.
Aiyawatt and Vichai are not the first Thais to take charge of an English club, and it is worth mentioning the connection with Thaksin Shinawatra. When Thaksin was Thailand’s Prime Minister – which now seems a very long time ago – he awarded the exclusive duty free contract at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport to Vichai’s company.
The Raksriaksorns would hope to be a more settling influence on Leicester than Thaksin was at Manchester City. And there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be.
Thaksin’s stint at Eastlands was – and this is saying something – one of the most bizarre years in City’s history, which culminated in him going on the run from his homeland as he was about to be convicted on a corruption charge, before selling the club to an oil multi-billionaire. Although City are doing very well now, things looked rather wobbly under Thaksin’s regime.
Vichai and his son have no such concerns, although King Power have not been untouched by Thailand’s volcanic political volatility. Last November, amid one of the country’s periodic bouts of political unrest, protestors shut down Suvarnabhumi Airport which, among many other things, didn’t do an awful lot for duty free business.
Surely the key for Aiyawatt and Vichai, as they embark on their English football adventure, is not to promise the earth. They do need to make some promises, though.
And so at a press conference in Bangkok on Wednesday, Vichai was reported as saying that Sousa could have £10m to spend on building a squad. Sousa has since insisted that figure is to spend in improving the infrastructure of the club as a whole, not just the team.
You wouldn’t have thought the team needed improving that much, given that they finished fifth in the Championship last season. Yes, teenage striker Martyn Waghorn went back to Sunderland after an impressive season on loan.
And French striker Yann Kermorgant – who took possibly the worst penalty ever in last season’s play-off semi-final defeat against Cardiff – has gone to Arles-Avignon on a season’s loan.
And then there was idiot centre-back Wayne Brown, who alienated his team-mates and effectively sealed his own exit by admitting to voting BNP in May’s General Election. (Yes, he is entitled to vote BNP. And by the same token, I am entitled to say he’s an idiot for wasting his vote on a bunch of racist clowns.)
But they have got back striker DJ Campbell, revitalised after returning from a loan spell at Blackpool, who he helped into the Premier League. Campbell has looked useful in the early weeks of the season, to the point where Sousa has claimed he could be the Championship’s top scorer this season.
Maybe, though, Sousa needs to spend a bit of money on the team. So far, his only spending has been the £300,000 he forked out to sign Portuguese defender Moreno from Vitoria Guimaraes. Getting to the Premier League within two years is going to cost a bit more than that.
And yet they started well this afternoon against a Burnley side who have come out of their year in the Premier League relatively unscathed. Dany N’Guessan should probably have given Leicester the lead after 35 seconds, and Campbell definitely should have done in the 19th minute, firing over after latching on to Steve Howard’s flick. Sousa admitted afterwards that those two missed chances cost his side dear.
Burnley, though, had an early hard luck story of their own to tell in between those two escapes. Andre Bikey headed in Ross Wallace’s fifth-minute corner, but referee Geoff Eltringham decided – harshly – that Clarke Carlisle had tugged Moreno’s shirt off the ball, and disallowed the goal.
Brian Laws’ side like to spray the ball around, and when they get it right, it’s great to watch. Wade Elliott finished a useful move by testing keeper Chris Weale with a low shot, and Danny Fox put in a couple of teasing crosses from the left which might have brought goals on another day.
The game hinged on two incidents. The first seemed innocuous at the time: In the 32nd minute, Bikey and Weale collided as they challenged for a Wallace free kick. The keeper had treatment on his shoulder and soldiered on – but only for another 10 minutes.
Conrad Logan came on, and was then beaten in the first-half stoppage-time added on for Weale’s treatment. He seemed to have Wallace’s 25-yard shot covered until it hit Moreno and rolled into the opposite corner of the goal.
Burnley looked more confident after that. With just over an hour gone, the impressive Wallace was involved again, chipping the ball over for Chris Iwelumo to head the 100th goal of his career.
It’s been a good start to life at Burnley for Iwelumo, who had few chances at Wolves last season and seems condemned to spend the rest of his career being mocked by comedians you’ve never heard of in BBC Three football gaffe compliation shows over THAT Scotland miss.
He now has two goals in three games for the Clarets, and got a standing ovation when he was substituted towards the end. Already, he looks at home at Turf Moor.
By the time Iwelumo came off, Graham Alexander, making his 900th club career start (that’s according to the BBC website – I have to confess I haven’t counted them individually) had made it 3-0 with a penalty after Michael Lamey had brought down Chris Eagles.
Three games into the season, Burnley sit third in the Championship, Leicester are bottom.
“It’s early days,” Laws said. “I still see Leicester as promotion contenders. Sousa will want to stamp his authority on the team.
“I see some shades of the Swansea way of playing in their side. If they get that right – and they’ve certainly got the players to do it – they will be very strong at home.”
Sousa, who felt his side started well but let their heads drop after going 2-0 down, will be making signings soon. “We will invest to make our squad stronger,” he said. On the playing side, it sounds as if there will be more changes to come at the Walkers Stadium.