Tielemans: The Ace Fox in Leicester’s Skulk

Leicester City have broken their transfer record for the second time in less than a week to complete the signing of 22-year-old Belgium international midfielder Youri Tielemans, for a reported £40m.

Having spent spent the second-half of last season on loan at the King Power Stadium, the Foxes were successful in chasing off apparent interest from the likes of Manchester United to finalise a permanent deal for the exciting young playmaker (widely regarded as one the brightest talents in European football), enhancing the air of optimism around the city, as the new Premier League season draws closer.

The move follows the £30m acquisition of Ayoze Perez from Newcastle on Thursday, and speaking today about the capture, Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers has expressed his delight: “I’m delighted that Youri has chosen to be part of Leicester City’s journey. It’s an incredibly exciting time for this football club and to be able to bring players of Youri’s quality here is an indication of the hunger for success we have”.

A player at the right end of his 20s, with experience in the World Cup, Champions League and three top-flight European leagues, Leicester have secured a player who could, without doubt, play for any side in the Premier League. That said, the 2016 champions, at £40m, have perhaps paid a fee substantially beneath that which Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal and even Spurs (in light of their £63m paid to another French club [Lyon] for a similarly touted midfield starlet [Tanguy Ndombele, also 22]) would’ve been charged for Tielemans’ services.

Indeed, the fairy tale of three years ago may have reverberated around football world, but without forthcoming involvement in European competition, opportunistic recognition from other clubs of any such desperation to fix their squad (much like Leicester themselves’ rather extortionate demands to ‘crisis-ridden’ United for Harry Maguire) or any frivolous examples of Leicester waving wads of cash around, they’ve sealed a bargain deal for somebody whose value will almost certainly increase; and swiftly too.

Moreover, in expansion to the factor of no European football at the King Power, Rodgers’ young, liberated regime has the ideal mix of realistic league ambition (that being to, at least, challenge the monopoly of the top 6), a fresh feel-good factor and a clear footballing philosophy; without the derailing proposition of the Europa League.

The addition of Tielemans may well prove to be the most influential of any made by Leicester this summer, as he is perfect for a plethora of in-game scenarios: likely to excel again (this time to an even greater degree) as the more advanced midfield force alongside the ever-maturing tenacious pair of Wilfred Ndidi and Hamza Choudhury, the Belgian has the ability to orchestrate a front-footed possession game, as well as utilise that same technical adeptness in the form of ball retention to conserve results and also serve the ever-green explosiveness of Jamie Vardy during matches suiting a counter-attacking approach.

In light of Tielemans’ permanent arrival, a signature of such pedigree both justifies the excitement ahead of Rodgers’ first full season and emphasises the statement and view to progression required to convince the likes of Ben Chilwell and much sought-after Harry Maguire to remain part of the venture. Tielemans’ performances towards the back end of the season, notably an authoritative display in the 3-0 victory over Arsenal in April, were certainly worthy of other potential suitors. However, his readiness to return to the East Midlands, with such a way still to go in the window, epitomises the infectious spirit and anticipation surrounding the club, spanning the gateway period from May to imminent August.

Having scored 3 times in his 13 Premier League appearances last term, Tielemans also has 23 caps and a single international goal to his name. Goals are certainly a commodity he’ll be looking to add more regularly to his game, though it’s something he’s in a fantastic position to do, playing for attack-minded club and international [Roberto Martínez] coaches; whilst training and lining up, several times a year, alongside one of the world’s foremost goalscoring midfield players: Kevin De Bruyne. Of course, there’s much more too for him to learn from the Man City star.

Furthermore, though he scored just once for Monaco in 2017/18, struggling also with the team during the first-half of their chaotic 2018/19 campaign, an excellent tally of 18 goals from midfield during his final season at Anderlecht (before moving to France for €25m in May 2017) reminds us that that particular trait is there.

In the name of team development, the buy represents the continuation of a project at Leicester which is very much in its infancy. Initially loaned back in January by Frenchman Claude Puel to fit into his patient and retentive style of play, it took a month for Tielemans to hit his capable stride, amid turmoil and swelling toxicity surrounding the aforementioned manager. Though in the weeks following Puel’s February sacking, he would become instrumental in a run of 5 wins (and just 2 losses) from the Foxes’ final 9 league fixtures; much accreditable to Rodgers’ more emancipated incarnation of the Frenchman’s possession-based football. The Belgian started every game of the run-in, impressing too as Leicester held Man City for 70 minutes at the Etihad in May, frustrating the free-scoring (eventual) champions until Vincent Kompany’s iconic piledriver.

All in all, Leicester have pulled off a major coup. The Foxes face 5 of last season’s the top 7 in their opening 8 league games, including a trip to Frank Lampard’s Chelsea on matchday 2. Indeed, with such a tricky start, optimism could quickly turn to pressure, so it will be interesting to see how Tielemans, as promising and classy as he is, may react to an adverse run of results. Particularly in light of his involvement in Monaco’s capitulation from last season’s outset. That said, he and this dangerous, yet foundationally robust (allowing the likes of the Belgian to express himself) Leicester side will no doubt revel in the prospect of quieting what will be a euphoric Stamford Bridge during Lampard’s homecoming.

So all things considered, this is how Leicester, by virtue of their squad today, may line-up against Wolves on 11th August:

Leicester lineup

On the Move Like Jaga: Sheff Utd re-sign Jagielka

On Thursday, defender Phil Jagielka re-signed with Sheffield United on a one-year contract, following his release by Everton.

Premier League stalwart (see Premier League 2019/20 STALWART XI) Jagielka, 36, who cut short a seven-year association with United (his first professional club) on 4th July 2007, returned exactly twelve years on from the day he departed.

Having previously made 254 league appearances between 2000 and 2007, including ever-presence in United’s 2006/07 Premiership campaign, the (then) 24-year-old had mustered both rounded professional experience within the English game and an impressive reputation, by virtue of invariable participation in every Blades league fixture during his final three seasons there, as a highly accomplished, reliable and versatile defensive asset. A combination of attributes which attracted the interest of the day’s Everton boss David Moyes, whose sides had been known for their resilience, awkwardness to defeat and, above all, effectiveness in attaining strong sums of league points season-on-season.

Last Time Around

Over the years, a handful of clubs have graced the Premier League for just a season or two, yet have managed to make their mark and, subsequently, stick in the memory. For instance, Ian Holloway’s all-out-attacking Blackpool were unforgettable participants of the 2010/11 campaign, whilst Bradford City’s unlikely survival in 1999/2000 (though only to go down the next year) saw them memorably escape by beating Liverpool at Valley Parade in the season finale. Similarly, Sheffield United’s contribution to 2006/07 has sustained recollection; and Jagielka, coupled with manager Neil Warnock, was a leading character during the brief stint.

Indeed, he was at the forefront of each success (though limited of course by eventual relegation) enjoyed by the team. Regularly standing in for club captain Chris Morgan at times of absence, Jagielka put in star showings all across the park: kicking off the season in front of the back four, before dropping into a more natural centre-half birth shortly after; yet still occasionally resurfacing in the higher echelons of the pitch, notably to hit a corker on the half-volley to claim a late first victory of the season against Middlesbrough. Whilst he also converted 2/2 penalties (a skill he’d later utilise in blue to send Everton to the 2010 FA Cup Final) and even kept a goalkeeping clean sheet, having been forced to replace the injured Paddy Kenny between the sticks on the hour-mark against Arsenal. A game which they won 1-0, with Jagielka justifying Warnock’s decision not to name a goalkeeper on his five-man bench.

After moving on to Everton for a bargain £4m fee, following the disappointing outcome of his inaugural top-flight year, Jagielka went on to play 322 times for the Toffees in the Premier League; early on as a sitting midfielder or right-back, but soon as the second component of a robust centre-half unit alongside Joleon Lescott. Jagielka also represented his country 40 times, emerging as a particular favourite of Roy Hodgson’s in the middle of the England boss’ defence.

An international defender and stalwart of two big English football clubs, yet a tier below the elite players of his generation, he has been a perfect fit into club and international sides whose approach to matches, league campaigns and tournaments have not been bound by overwhelming expectancy of dominant success; managed often, too, by ‘old-fashioned’ British managers, who have commonly valued a firm base, natural leaders and unwavering commitment to historic shirts and ardent fans. All qualities which Jagielka has classically invoked. Though he, of course, must also be given credit for his proficiency on the ball, allowing him to make the aforementioned appearances in midfield, as well as remain a trustee within Roberto Martínez’ regime of possession-based football at Everton.

So as Jagielka strolls back down Bramall Lane (seemingly at will), there’s little to no uncertainty, both internally and externally, as to the nature and vast experience of the man that Sheffield United are reattaining; though sentiment, due to a definite (if expected) decline in his recent performances, has been murmured as a principal and, perhaps, irrational vehicle for the transfer. Though, for sure, he and United have unfinished business together, and if you’re looking for a dark horse for a potential game or atmospheric occasion of the season, then look no further than West Ham’s visit to Bramall Lane.

Indeed, the Blades’ relegation in May 2007 was certainly among the unluckiest in Premier League history, falling victim to some extremely poor refereeing decisions within games involving both themselves and fellow strugglers West Ham: Notably, a dubious penalty awarded to Liverpool by Rob Styles on the opening day, when Blades captain Chris Morgan mildly caught Steven Gerrard; and arguably one of the worst decisions ever seen in the league, as West Ham’s Bobby Zamora was accredited the winning goal at Blackburn, despite Carlos Tevez not only blocking the ball in front of the goal line, but also doing so in an explicitly offside position.

Speaking to Sky Sports immediately after relegation, having just been beaten by usurpers to 17th Wigan on the final day, Warnock alluded to both exemplified game changing calls, with direct reference to “Mr [Jim] Devine” (the linesman on the day at Blackburn’s Ewood Park) evoking both his aggravation towards the Liverpool penalty ruling and (though coincidently and by no means Warnock’s intention) the near divine intervention of the Hammers’ Argentine during the back end of that season, having arrived at West Ham alongside Javier Mascherano under ‘shady’ circumstances.

The Hammers, crucially, avoided a points deduction for their purchase of the pair, who had been the subjects of third-party ownership; contrary to Premier League rules. Indeed, it was Tevez’ goals, including the winner at Old Trafford on matchday 38, which are largely recognised to have kept his side up, sending the Yorkshire club the other way in the process. They had yet to return until promotion last season.

Sheff Utd relegated

In light of these controversies, Jagielka and Blades supporters alike will be all the more determined to survive this time around, as well as get one (or two) over on the East Londoners to boot. West Ham visit Bramall Lane 11th January 2020, and with ‘one of their own’ returning to play for ‘one of their own’ [Chris Wilder], motivation within the dressing room is unlikely to be a problem.

Finally, aged 36, the one-year deal signed by Jagielka gives him the chance to join the eleven below in continuing, in spite of senior age and significant miles on the clock, to pull on Premier League jerseys:

Premier League 2019/20 STALWART XI

GK- Joe Hart, Burnley, 32:
340 appearances
Debut- October 2006 (Man City vs Sheff Utd)

RB- Phil Bardsley, Burnley, 34:
278 appearances
Debut- September 2005 (Man United vs Blackburn)

CB- Phil Jagielka, Sheff Utd, 36:
360 appearances
Debut- August 2006 (Sheff Utd vs Liverpool)

CB- Adrian Mariappa, Watford, 32:
143 appearances
Debut- August 2006 (Everton vs Watford

LB- Leighton Baines, Everton, 34:
412 appearances
Debut- August 2005 (Wigan vs Chelsea)

RM- Aaron Lennon, Burnley, 32:
372 appearances
Debut- August 2003 (Tottenham vs Leeds)

CM- James Milner, Liverpool, 33:
516 appearances
Debut- November 2002 (West Ham vs Leeds)

CM- Mark Noble, West Ham, 32:
349 appearances
Debut- August 2005 (West Ham vs Blackburn)

LM- Ashley Young, Man United, 33:
357 appearances
Debut- August 2006 (Everton vs Watford)

ST- Theo Walcott, Everton, 30:
321 appearances
Debut- August 2006 (Arsenal vs Aston Villa)

ST- Shane Long, Southampton, 32:
271 appearances
Debut- August 2006 (Aston Villa vs Reading)