President told Mahrez: thank you for making us proud
On the 25 April, Riyad Mahrez was named PFA Player of the Year, becoming the first African to win the coveted award. Two days later, the president of Algeria, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, issued a statement on state television congratulating the winger on his exploits and subsequently thanking him for inspiring Algeria’s children and making the country proud. Algerians have followed Leicester’s historic run closely. Mahrez’s mesmeric play has dominated the front pages of every daily paper. Scores of pedestrians have congregated in front of news stands after weekends for updates as the Foxes inched closer and closer to this most improbable feat.
Can Ulloa emerge from the shadows of Messi and Dybala?
The exploits of Diego Simeone driving Atlético Madrid to the latter stages of the Champions League or the role of Paulo Dybala in Juventus’ fifth consecutive Scudetto are much more interesting to Argentinian media and the football fanatics in this country than Leonardo Ulloa’s story as one of the heroes of Leicester.
Maybe that is because he was never considered a star player in the few years he played in the Argentinian first division (31 matches for San Lorenzo, 12 for Arsenal de Sarandí and 14 for Olimpo de Bahía Blanca with a total of nine goals in 57 matches). The fact that he has never played for the national team is perhaps also part of the reason he is not being given huge media coverage, or the fact that he was born in a small town, General Roca, 1,000 kilometres from Buenos Aires. He is still an unknown quantity in his homeland. “I didn’t leave Argentina in the best way, pretty much by the back door, to pick up the fight [to succeed] in Spain’s second division” he told La Nación, last month.
In the country of Lionel Messi, a lot of Barcelona shirts are being sold on the streets but no Leicester ones, and it is doubtful whether the country’s president Mauricio Macri – who was chairman of Boca Juniors in the 1990s – is even aware that an Argentinian striker has played a part in Leicester winning the Premier League. Of course, websites are reporting his goals and Leicester’s wins but no one is suggesting that he should join Lionel Messi and Sergio Agüero in La Albiceleste; although the recent, touching letter of Claudio Ranieri to his players caught the media spotlight over here more than Ulloa’s achievements when coming off the bench.
‘It is shocking that no one had noticed Kanté before’
Ligue 1 does not enjoy the same profile in France as the top clubs in the Premier League have in England, so there was something of an unknown quality to N’Golo Kanté to many casual football supporters in the country when he moved to Leicester from Caen at the beginning of the season. It was not until the Foxes had been well established in first place and the Paris-born midfielder had been called for the national squad that people really started to take notice of him. With greater coverage has followed greater notoriety, although his explosion on the field still seems to be regarded with curiosity as opposed to incredible fanfare. Apart from his former sporting director at Caen, Xavier Gravelaine, who told Ouest France last month: “I’ve watched a lot of Leicester matches and N’Golo is the same there as he was with Caen. The difference is that he’s playing in the Premier League. It’s shocking that no one’s noticed it before. His explosion doesn’t surprise me.”
Hometown celebrates success of loveable oddity Huth
In Germany, Berlin-born defender Robert Huth has long been seen as a loveable oddity: a born Berliner who never played in the domestic league; a player who looked like he belonged to another era even though he took part in modern German football’s sea-change moment; a cult hero, but an imported one. While Huth is fondly remembered by German fans for his role in the “summer fairy tale” of the 2006 World Cup, he was soon discarded in favour of more mobile players like Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng, playing his last game for his country in an insignificant 7-2 friendly against the United Arab Emirates in 2009. A recent in-depth interview in 11 Freunde magazine noted that Huth, who has spent almost half of his life in the UK, appeared to have become “estranged” from his homeland.
Leicester’s rise has undoubtedly brought Huth back to the forefront of the national memory, though not quite into the national squad. After Boateng got injured earlier in the year, 80% of users of Sport1 website called for the 31-year-old to be brought back for the Euros. But coach Jögi Löw moved swiftly to quash speculation, explaining that he prefers his teams to play further up the pitch than Leicester.
Love for gentleman Ranieri comes to the fore
Thank you, Leicester. This story has been the stuff of dreams for Italy, the country of Claudio Ranieri. The English city has been the place where we were able to see a new side to Ranieri: he has always been a gentleman, but he has never been so happy and enthusiastic about his job. Ranieri was way too bothered because the world of football in Italy has always been hard to please. Everyone was touched by seeing him so human at Leicester.
At the last count, 500 participants were ready to go. All this is for love of the fable called Leicester and for a great coach like Claudio Ranieri. Thank you, Leicester.
Morgan shirts still not in demand – but that could yet change
Wes Morgan may be born in Nottingham but he has 25 caps for Jamaica after qualifying through his grandparents. The reaction to Leicester’s success in Jamaica is what we assume it has been anywhere in the world: bemused amusement. While the Premier League dominates the local version for attention, any Leicester “wagonists” are waiting carefully for the title; or perhaps the second title when it comes.
For now Leicester are everyone’s second team. Speaking to 35-year-old Richard Currie from Kingston, who sells replica football shirts, his business is still to see an increasing demand for a player who has already captained the Reggae Boyz thanks to his defensive leadership for the Foxes. “Well, I haven’t seen an order to date or anyone wearing one,” he says. “But then Morgan isn’t someone who grew up in Jamaica so perhaps people can’t identify with him like local players; but how he defends and his fighting spirit is what people here identify with him and rate him for. Now he has won the title you’ll see them come out. We Jamaicans are a proud people and we like to show it!”
Vardy can be seen all over Bangkok airport
Leicester City football players are known in Thailand as the “Siamese Foxes” and the club’s Thai owner has flown Buddhist monks out to England to bless the stadium, where the Thai king’s portrait has also been raised. While Foxes fervour has not completely immersed the south-east Asian country in blue, you can’t make it through Bangkok airport without seeing striker Jamie Vardy’s face.
The club’s owner runs the duty-free company King Power, which has placed video adverts in terminals showing Vardy running around an airport shop in full kit while picking up tax-free gifts. It also sells collectable gift cards with photos of Kasper Schmeichel and Riyad Mahrez.
Schlupp and Amartey spark curiosity
The Premier League’s fans in Ghana are decidedly of the Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and the two Manchester clubs variety; a smattering of Spurs fans and then … nothing. When a Ghanaian signs for an English club, the team may get support based on the player’s status – think Asamoah Gyan getting Sunderland a few, while Michael Essien copped Chelsea a large following. If the player is not that huge, say Jordan Ayew, then no can do.
It is just pride that Daniel Amartey, Jeffrey Schlupp and 20-year old Joe Dodoo are from these parts, as former Ghana captain Stephen Appiah told Citi FM: “I believe Schlupp is one of the key players for the team. I’m saying that because he got injured, went out for some months and came back with three games to the end of the season and the coach started him. So that shows you how important he is to the team. For Amartey, I am so happy for him because you join a team like Leicester a couple of months ago and you are going to win a trophy.”