Five Stars: Leicester City's best players in the 21st century
Choosing the best Leicester City players of the last 11-or-so years was always going to be a difficult task. Especially as there are only two or three men who could be considered as having a massive impact on the club in that time. Ryan Hubbard looks down, takes a deep breath and gives five names.
After Martin O’Neill’s Golden Generation separated at the turn of the Millennium, the fans at Filbert Way have not exactly been over-awed with the talent on display. Numerous disappointing signings (Junior Lewis, Trevor Benjamin and Sergio Hellings, anyone?) have provided the bulk of the last decade, but fortunately these several years of mediocrity have been bookended by two promotions. And it’s from these seasons where Leicester City’s top five players of the 21st century have been taken.
This really is a no-brainer. Saved from rotting in Chelsea’s reserves by Martin O’Neill, Muzzy made Leicester his home. With some fantastic performances in the heart of midfield alongside Neil Lennon and Robbie Savage, he helped guide Leicester through their most successful ever period, winning two League Cups.
While still a Fox, he was called up to the Turkey squad for the 2002 World Cup due to his father’s Turkish-Cypriot roots. Despite Muzzy only playing 16 minutes during the semi-final with Brazil, he went on to become the last English-born player to pick up a World Cup medal as Turkey claimed third place. In November of the same year, Izzet scored one of the greatest ever goals by a player in a Leicester shirt, with a 16-yard bicycle kick in a First Division game at Grimsby Town.
After Leicester were relegated from the Premier League in 2004, it became clear that the club could not afford to renew his contract. Reluctantly, Izzet left in the summer to join Birmingham on a free transfer, where he was plagued by a knee injury until he announced his retirement in 2006. Still living in the county, Muzzy continues to follow Leicester whenever he can and is still adored by the Foxes faithful.
Despite having played for two other clubs, deep-down Muzzy is a “one-club man”, and a perfect example of a living Leicester legend.
Bred by the same academy system as Emile Heskey and Gary Lineker, Andy King is a rare example of a youth player coming through the Leicester ranks to play at a high level. At the age of just 22, Kingy has already been drafted into both John Toshack and Gary Speed’s Welsh teams, as well as catching the eye of Premier League bosses.
One of the first names on Eriksson’s team-sheet, King regularly shows the maturity of a player twice his senior which has led to him being named as captain in the regular absence of club-captain Matt Oakley. Popping up from the centre of midfield, his late surging runs into the penalty area have helped Andy to pick up 14 goals this season, making him the club’s current top scorer. And after scoring important goals including winners against Nottingham Forest and Sheffield United, and it’s no wonder that you often hear grown men professing their love for this young man from Maidenhead.
The fiery Scotsman was signed in 2002 by Dave Bassett, but his three goals couldn’t help Leicester survive in the Premier League. The following season, however, saw Dickov power his way to 20 goals helping Micky Adams’ side to second place, and automatic promotion back to the Premier League.
The 2003/04 season was a very mixed season for Dickov. During a mid-season training camp in Spain, Dickov, Frank Sinclair and Keith Gillespie were arrested by Spanish Police for an alleged rape on two German women. After missing a 1-0 win over Birmingham, the charges were proven to be false and the men were released.
Despite his freedom, the week in a Cartagena prison had clearly taken its toll on Dickov. His thirteen goals weren’t enough to keep Leicester in the Premier League, and wanting to move on from his experience, he made the switch to Blackburn in the summer.
In 2008, Dickov made a welcome return to the Walkers Stadium, however the less said about that, the better. Yet even after a 28-game spell which yielded just three goals, the Leicester fans will never forget those first two years at Filbert Way, where his partnership with Brian Deane helped the fans celebrate the club’s rise into the top tier.
An important fixture in the heart of the Leicester defence after his £1.6 million signing from Oxford in 1997, Elliott spent a total of 8 years as a Fox, making 245 appearances. Racking up a total of 26 goals, his most important two came in the 2000 Worthington Cup final. His two towering headers helped the Foxes overcome a spirited Tranmere Rovers side, and Elliott became the last captain to lift the League Cup trophy at the Old Wembley.
Despite a £3.5 million offer from former manager Martin O’Neill’s Celtic side, Elliott signed contract in August 2001 that would keep him at the club until 2005.
As well as being important part of Micky Adams’ promotion side in 2002/03, Elliott also represented (his grandmother’s) Scotland 18 times between 1997 and 2001, scoring one international goal against San Marino.
Recovering from a knee injury, Matt had a short loan spell at Ipswich Town to gain fitness, but his return to Leicester was to be a short one. In January 2005, the knee injury got the better of Elliott, and he retired with immediate effect.
Rarely have the Leicester fans warmed to a player like they have to Swiss international Berner. The largely unknown left-back was signed from Blackburn by Nigel Pearson for the club’s successful League One campaign, and a string of quality performances cemented his place as a firm fan favourite.
In the 2009/10 season, Berner’s performances again impressed. Considered such an integral part of the team, Leicester fans started an (ultimately unsuccessful) internet campaign to get Bruno picked for Switzerland’s World Cup Squad.
After the arrival of new boss Sven-Goran Eriksson, Berner has found his first team opportunities at the Walkers Stadium limited with the Swede preferring youth to experience. This led Bruno to express his desire to leave the club to play first team football. Unwilling to see him leave, the fans started another campaign to try and get Bruno to stay, and after an injury to loanee Greg Cunningham, Berner signed a one-year contract extension to the delight of the Foxes supporters.