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Leicester City: When pre-season tours go bad

The Boot Room

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It’s that time of year again which rolls lazily around each June and July. Footballers squeeze their flip flops and tracksuits into a hastily packed suitcase, the kit men neatly fold pennants into an inside zipped compartment of their suitcases and any young red haired ballers make sure they’ve stocked up on sun cream in preparation for the eagerly anticipated pre-season tour.

Like most things though, this long-standing institution has metamorphasised into something bigger, wider and more important than its humble origins. Traditionally an opportunity to enjoy a bit of sun and down a few drinks before the graft and gruel of the pre-season training regime, it is now a televised, glad-handing, palm pressing exercise in establishing and widening the corporate brand of the football club to hitherto untapped international markets. These days, such affairs are micro-managed to within an inch of their existence with barely time for a footballer to even look at a bottle of beer, never mind procure one, down it on one and smash it on the head of the guy against whom he’s held a long time grudge. Some of these events are even beamed into our living rooms for our delectation.

Of course this type of thing (the violence thing, that is, not the TV thing) probably happens more often than we humble punters imagine. A pre season tour, what with the balmy sunshine and jagerbombs, merely precipitates the perfect conditions for grievances which have previously been festering to break free from their shackles and explode into a drunken orgy of hijinks or violence.

But one club in particular seems to have cornered the market in pre season japery gone too far. Britney Spears’ classic uptempo popalicious groove,  ‘Oops I did it again’ seems an appropriate theme tune for a certain dressing room in the East Midlands since prior to the recent misdemeanours in Thailand, Leicester City managed a treble of sorts between 2000 and 2004 as they stumbled between La Manga and Finland to chalk up notoriety alongside a hefty bar bill.

Back in 2000 and with a League Cup final looming against Tranmere Rovers, Martin O’Neill decided that a trip to Spain was just the ticket in order to relax the players and offer some respite from the arduous grind that is the Premier League. Such a strategy worked well enough for Brian Clough and his frequent mid season excursions to Mallorca when his Nottingham Forest side was in their pomp. This one backfired badly though.

Alcohol, dancing and fire extinguishers seem to feature heavily in the ‘incident’ in the wee small hours of the morning. Tony Coles, La Manga managing director, told the Leicester Mercury that the players were, “dancing on tables and being a general nuisance. They were insulting and rude to people. They were asking ladies to dance that didn’t want to and being obnoxious.

“They were all fairly drunk by that stage. They had had a lot to drink. The team’s behaviour up to that point had been unacceptable.

“Around 40 people were covered in the stuff from the fire extinguisher. It was irresponsible. The guests left the bar as soon as they could possibly get out.”

Leicester City squeaked past Tranmere 2-1 a few weeks later to lift the League Cup. Not to be deterred though by such adverse publicity, team bonding must go on and so in preparation for the 2002-03 season, a pre season trip to Finland was organised – perhaps a more temperate climate might prevent a repeat of such La Manga scenes. However, such a calming environment failed to curb the ire of Dennis Wise who, according to The Guardian, ‘…Wise did not punch Davidson in a toe-to-toe brawl designed to settle a row following a game of cards but that he attacked the Scottish defender as he lay in bed in his hotel room.’ Apparently, ‘Davidson sustained a double fracture of his right cheekbone as a result of being punched by Wise and will miss the start of the new season as a result.’

The season went swimmingly as the Foxes reclaimed their place in the top division at the first time of asking, finishing in 2nd place behind Portsmouth.

A grim hat trick was completed in March 2004 as Leicester returned to La Manga, Spain. Allegations were made against various players and Paul Mace, the club’s chief operating officer was moved to make a statement: “This is not the first time that the football industry as a whole has found itself with disappointing coverage that does not portray our national game in the best possible light. This is not good for Leicester City Football Club, this is not good for the game.”

Indeed not, although it should be noted that Keith Gillespie accepted substantial undisclosed libel damages over the allegations. At the end of the season, Leicester City slipped out of the Premier League back down to the Championship.

Of course, the Foxes aren’t the only club to be involved in such scrapes. Famously, England warmed up for Euro 96 by heading to Hong Kong, culminating in the Dentist’s Chair and all that.

As planes laden down with expensive footballers taxi down the tarmac, bound for all manner of exotic destinations, there will no doubt be a few nervous press officers on board, desperately hoping that all they are required to comment on is transfer speculation.

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Everton

Three free agent goalkeeper options for Everton to add depth

Everton should consider adding depth to the goalkeeping department this summer.

Mathew Nash

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Everton currently have a fine goalkeeper in Jordan Pickford. Signed last summer from Sunderland he was the club’s player of the season last term and is now England’s number one stopper.

But it could be argued they are lacking in reserve. The veteran Maarten Stekelenburg has been an injury concern in recent times. Meanwhile, Spaniard Joel Robles has left the club at the end of his contract. It leaves youngster Mateusz Hewelt as the club’s current third-choice.

Considering his inexperience and Stekelenburg’s injury troubles, surely Everton should consider bringing in another goalie this summer?

Of course, they will not want to pay top dollar to do so.

So here are three free agent stoppers that Everton could target this summer…

Tim Krul

The Dutchman has struggled to find his way back into first-team football since a horror knee injury in 2015.

He spent last season as back-up to Mathew Ryan at Brighton and is now looking for a new club.

Since that knee injury, Krul has remained fit and would be a great back-up to Pickford.

(Photo by Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images)

Rafael

The first-choice keeper under Rafa Benitez at Napoli in 2014-15 the Brazilian found himself pushed down the pecking order over the past two seasons by Pepe Reina.

Undoubtedly a talented stopper with three Brazil caps to his name, he would be a solid option in reserve.

(Photo by Dave Thompson/Getty Images)

Miguel Santos

One Everton fans probably have not heard of, but perhaps the most likely addition.

Fresh from helping Fortuna Sittard to promotion to the Eredivisie the Portuguese talent will be known to Everton boss Marco Silva.

They worked together at Estoril when Silva was the manager. Santos, at the time, was a promising youngster but left for Benfica in 2012.

He had a spell at Port Vale in 2016 and a move back to England as Everton’s third-choice would surely appeal to the 23-year-old.

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Liverpool

Steven Gerrard called incoming Liverpool star Alisson ‘world-class’ in April

Liverpool will complete a world record move for the Brazilian this week.

Mathew Nash

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Liverpool are set to give the fans what they want by signing a new goalkeeper. A world record fee has been agreed with AS Roma for Brazilian number one Alisson this week. Liverpool will pay the Italian side £67 million for the 25-year-old. Sky Sports report he will undergo a medical this week and a deal will then be finalised.

It is a bold move from Liverpool, who for a number of seasons have suffered with mediocre goalkeeping performances from Loris Karius and Simon Mignolet.

Alisson is considered one of the best keepers in Europe and keeps Manchester City’s brilliant Ederson Moraes on the bench for his country.

He is certainly highly-rated by one former Liverpool player and legend. Steven Gerrard is a big fan of the player.

He spoke highly of the goalie whilst working on BT Sport as a Champions League pundit last season.


“This fella does deserve the praise he is getting of late. He makes world-class saves, he’s up quick, he makes second saves. A world-class keeper no doubt.”

– Steven Gerrard talking of Alisson’s quality in April 2018

 


Of course, Liverpool came up against Alisson and his Roma side in the competition. Over the course of two legs, the Reds put seven goals past the Brazilian. It led some fans to question whether Alisson was actually the right man for Liverpool.

 

But Liverpool needed a keeper with pedigree. Karius is simply too error-prone and his confidence must be at an all-time low after his Champions League final woe.

Liverpool fans will hope Alisson can live up to Gerrard’s ‘world-class’ tag and his price-tag next season.

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Liverpool

Three alternatives for Liverpool with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain out for the season

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Photo: Getty Images.

Amid what felt like a positive few days for Liverpool, fans were brought back down to earth by the devastating blow that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is unlikely to return from injury in 2018/19.

Jurgen Klopp confirmed the news after the midfielder suffered damage to his posterior cruciate ligament, anterior cruciate ligament, and medial ligaments in a challenge on Aleksandar Kolarov in a Champions League semi-final against Roma.

Oxlade-Chamberlain underwent successful surgery only a few days after the incident but is not expected to be available for selection and fully fit until the 2019/20 season.

“It feels like now is an appropriate time to tell people that for Ox this coming season will be about focusing on recovery and rehab. We have known this from pretty much the day after he got the injury and after the successful surgery, we were sure of it. There has been no change, the new information is that we’re now giving more detail publicly. But the truth of the matter is that we are preparing this season knowing he will not be with us on the pitch for competitive matches for the majority of it. If we do see him back this season it will be a bonus.”

Jurgen Klopp broke the news to the club’s official website.

The news comes as a real negative for Klopp, who will be busy planning how to get through the campaign without one of the team’s best performers in the tail end of last season.

His absence will open the door for three other men at Anfield though…

Georgino Wijnaldum

The arrivals of Naby Keita and Fabinho looked to be a major concern for the Dutchman, but with Oxlade-Chamberlain ruled out it seems unlikely that he will be moved on this summer at least. Quietly efficient and often producing in big games, he has been one of the first to have a finger pointed at him in frustrating results against lower level opposition.

With such high quality additions, Wijnaldum falls into the category of a player without the glamour of the likes of Keita but lacking the status of Jordan Henderson or James Milner. At times he has had his biggest impact in a more advanced midfield role, and whilst he lacks the injured man’s energy, he could be an option.

Nabil Fekir

Despite a deal seemingly being called off, Dean Jones of Bleacher Report has suggested that a move could be back on and Fekir would take up the role of natural playmaker as the attacking option in Klopp’s midfield trio. Whilst he may not be a direct replacement for Oxlade-Chamberlain, he would be the closest to filling Philippe Coutinho since he left in January and the former Southampton man really stepped up his game.

It could be a big ask for Fekir arriving at a new club after such a short pre-season following a successful World Cup campaign with France, but there is little doubt that if he joins Fekir would be the highest quality alternative in his place.

(Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

Adam Lallana

Lallana was a favourite with his hard working attitude playing into Jurgen Klopp’s system perfectly, but the last season was a difficult one for the midfielder as he suffered a number of injury set-backs and never really got going for the Reds.

The most natural replacement in a midfield three given that it was the role he occupied before Oxlade-Chamberlain arrived from Arsenal, he may have a refreshed chance to make his claim this season.

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