In the era of the Premier league where, as Bob Dylan once sang, “Money doesn’t talk, it swears,” and where even bog standard players can expect to earn to earn the kind of rewards that’d make even a potentate drool, the accusation levelled against many players now is that the game is all about how much can be earned in the shortest possible time.
Agents like Jon Smith reinforce this view with their mantra of ‘it’s a short career, so you gotta earn it while you can, and if this means club hopping, so be it.” So, does this mean that every player is now out for himself, and the idea of loyalty to a club, and to the club’s fanbase, is now consigned to the history books? Is Ryan Giggs really the last professional who’ll spend an entire twenty years plus career with just the one club?
Leicester City’s Andy King is proving to be an exception to this. He was a valued member of the Leicester team which brought romance back into the game for one more season and, in acquiring a premier league winner’s medal, became the first player in the modern era to win league winners medals in the top three divisions with only one club, though a number of players also achieved this with Ipswich Town in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Andy King’s career began at Chelsea when he was nine but, in 2004, he was released by the club. “I was released by Chelsea,” he said, “but, fortunately, Leicester City offered me a trial and it’s all gone from there.”
At the age of fifteen, being released by a premier league club can be a heartbreaking blow, but King was certain in himself he could still make the grade so, when Leicester City offered him the opportunity to join their academy, he accepted and benefitted significantly from learning from experienced older players like Matt Oakley and Chris Powell. He progressed through the ranks at Leicester and, in 2006/07 made twenty one appearances for the academy team. He was in the academy team which won the FA Premier Academy Crown and, as a result, was offered his first professional contract in May 2007 and subsequently made his first team debut at the age of eighteen. He’s since gone on to become Leicester’s highest ever scorer from midfield.
“ I’ve been well treated and well looked after by the coaching staff at Leicester City,” he said, “ and it’s because of them I’ve made the progress I have. I was fortunate to come to Leicester and get good coaching.”
Andy King has proven that, with the right mindset, being the recipient of good coaching and being ready to adapt to the challenges of different leagues, it’s possible to be successful remaining at one club. But the challenges he’s had to face have been immense. It isn’t always possible to play beautiful football and be promoted from division one, and whilst the skill set is higher in the championship, teams are still expected to get down and dirty when the need arises. King has risen to all these challenges, and has done so with the same club.
He was also fortunate in being at a club with managers who believed in teams being a mixture of youth and experience. But it hasn’t been an easy ride. Relegation to Division one so early in his Leicester career could have seen him decide to move on to try further his chances elsewhere. But his decision to remain paid off because, the following season, Leicester City achieved promotion as Division one champions. When he signed his new four year contract in 2016, he said, “I’ve only ever played for Leicester and, more and more, it’s looking like they’re the only team I’ll ever play for. I would love it if that was the case.”
In an era of cheque book team building, is a successful one club man like Andy King an anachronism or a shining example to young players on the threshold of building careers?