When I arrive at the grey and deserted-looking playing fields in the Nottingham suburb of Gamston where I am supposed to meet the Leicester City captain, Wes Morgan, the presence of a lonely Porsche in front of the clubhouse is the only sign that I might actually be in the right place.
The Leicester squad having been given a week off from training, I am here to speak to Morgan on the final day of his half-term soccer school – MB Coaching – which he founded last year with his childhood friend and former Nottingham Forest team-mate Julian Bennett, who was sadly forced to retire last summer through injury.
Walking around the back of the small, red-brick building, I hear the gaggle of excited children and soon see the hulking figure of Morgan, wrapped up in his Leicester City jacket, surrounded by young footballers less than half his size desperate to get out on the grass despite the battering wind.
So why is the Leicester centre-half spending his time off on a cold and blustery football park when many of his team-mates will be resting their weary legs under a foreign, sun-filled sky?
“I’ve known Jules [Bennett] for a long time,” he says, as we watch the kids tearing around full of energy and enthusiasm, much like his Leicester team has done for so much of this season. “We used to room together, came from the same area, and it’s something we’ve wanted to do for a long time. It’s giving something back to the community, so to speak.
“I remember some of the Forest players coming to my school in The Meadows when I was a kid. Marlon Harewood was one of them; he was just out of the youth team and that kind of thing is always inspiring. So I can imagine how it feels for these kids to come down here and meet us, and learn from us.”
There are a lot of Leicester strips on show among the children – Vardy outstripping even Ronaldo and Messi in the names-on-backs stakes – and Morgan, who is in good spirits, claims to have “converted a few” throughout the week, too.
Captain Morgan’s spirits were somewhat different at the Emirates two weekends ago. Just how bruising and significant Leicester’s agonising injury-time defeat to Arsenal will prove to be, we will only know in the coming weeks. The cushion of a five-point advantage over the Gunners, had they held out those extra few seconds for a draw, would have given their title prospects a striking outlook.
As it is, their lead at the top of the Premier League is just two points, and after a defeat of that nature it is often said that the next game cannot come quickly enough as an opportunity to banish the torment from the mind.
Leicester, however, have had almost a two-week break from action before Norwich City visit the King Power Stadium this afternoon: either a long time for painful thoughts to fester or perhaps, as Morgan believes, a very useful opportunity to rest and recover before entering the season’s home straight.
“Obviously the boys were all down; we were devastated,” he says of the mood in the dressing room after the Arsenal game. “We felt we’d done enough to hang on for the point, and to concede with the last kick of the game, it was hard to take.
“But the manager [Claudio Ranieri] came in the dressing room and he was full of praise for our performance and the way we went about our jobs. Then he turned round and said, ‘you’ve got a week off’. So the boys were delighted with that and I think quite a few of them booked a break away pretty quickly.
“He could definitely see how disappointed we were and how hard we’d worked in that game, so I think he just wanted to give us a bit of a lift, and obviously the boys appreciate that massively.
“To have a two-week period without a game, I think it’s wise to take advantage of that and have a mental break as well as a physical break – recharge the batteries, spend some time away from the grass, if you get a chance to get some sun, go ahead and do that. Then come back refreshed and raring to go for the final part of the season.”
Although Morgan’s time off has not been spent “away from the grass”, he says working with youngsters has been a great way to switch off from a remarkable but so far relentless Premier League season.
He also believes Leicester’s break can only be an advantage at a time when the teams challenging them at the top have FA Cup and European fixtures on their schedules. But when asked about the run of games his side are about to embark on, which many are now viewing as eminently winnable, he scowls and reminds me just where they themselves were in the league a year ago.
“I know the pundits and the media are talking about a run of easier games for us now, but it’s the Premier League – no games are easy. Some of these teams are fighting for their lives, just as we were at this time last season; sometimes they are even tougher games than playing against the top sides. I think we need to keep the same mindset and the same focus that we’ve had for every single game.
“We won’t look at the opposition and think it’s an easy game, and not be fully prepared. We have to approach each game the same: work hard, prepare correctly and do the right things that we have been doing to get the three points.”
The fairy-tale Leicester narrative has grown and grown as the season has gone on and Morgan himself is finally becoming more widely recognised as the colossal figure that those around the club have known him to be for some time. But with people starting to take them seriously as title contenders, is it all suddenly becoming a little bit more serious?
“We’re just relishing it and enjoying it,” Morgan says with a softening smile. “Obviously it’s a huge difference from last season, being bottom of the league and trying to climb out of there, to now being top and just trying to keep it going.
“We’re not getting carried away with what people are saying: ‘are they going to do it? How far can they go? Champions League…’ We’ve just got to keep focused and I’ve said it many times: take it one game at a time. I don’t think that mentality will change until the final game.”
When we head back to the clubhouse, there is a presentation to the children for their hard work throughout the week and Morgan poses for pictures with star-struck kids, and in many cases with their parents, too.
As things are being wrapped up, one father asks: “Are you going to do it, then, Wes?”
Morgan lets out a chuckle and looks at me pointedly as he gives the same clichéd answer he and his team-mates have become so well versed in, but that in this incredible season somehow rings true: “We’re just going to take it one game at a time.”Reuse content