Leicester embrace their Britishness and it's nothing to be ashamed of

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Leicester Sevilla
There has been a backlash against traditional British football qualities in recent years but Leicester's title winners execute that style perfectly


Leicester City are the only British team left in the Champions League and there is a case to be made that they were the only British team in it to begin with.

The surprise Premier League champions have picked up from where they left off in their title-winning campaign where many thought they were heading for only embarrassment after a season of a lifetime.

Results and performances in the league were demoralising and, at times, inexcusable under Claudio Ranieri but there has been something about Champions League nights - with the music and the floodlights - that has helped Leicester remember who they are.

Britain stands apart from the rest of Europe and British football is exceptional. That doesn’t mean it’s better; it means it’s different. An island nation, its football has traditionally reflected that status.

Leicester GFX Champions League

But traditional British qualities in football have appeared antiquated on the world stage for some time. The Premier League attracts the best players and coaches from all around the globe due, primarily, to the pay.

As such, it is difficult to find in any season many top teams playing “British” football. Since the appointment of Arsene Wenger in the mid-90s, clubs have looked overseas for talent. They have sought individuals not necessarily to harness British qualities at the top end of the game but to supress them.

That extended to the national team with the appointments of Sven Goran Eriksson and then Fabio Capello. It appeared that British football was ashamed of its Britishness and sought to emulate continental successes by importing them.

Shakespeare indebted to Schmeichel

Many British football fans have been dissuaded from thinking their native brand of football is any good. They are encouraged to look at Barcelona, look at Germany for the way the game should be played. 

The three eliminated English Champions League clubs – Arsenal, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur – might well play in the Premier League but they are not British teams.

Wenger, Pep Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino have all undeniably made adjustments to their philosophies to cope with the nature of the game here but none match the obvious Britishness of Leicester.

There is a time and a place for deploying the best of British; Leicester have hitherto demonstrated that in the Champions League. Jorge Sampaoli, descendent of Marcelo Bielsa, Barcelona-coach-in-waiting, had his team beaten well on Tuesday night.

On the touchline opposite was a man by the name of Craig Shakespeare - who only got his Uefa Pro Licence last summer. It was not a tactical masterclass by Shakespeare; it didn’t need to be. It was a display which drew on the most effective qualities of Britishness available to him. 

HD Samir Nasri Jamie Vardy Sevilla Leicester City Leicester Sevilla Leicester Sevilla Wes Morgan

Among the English teams eliminated, combined with the other seven teams in the Champions League quarter-final draw, Leicester’s numbers are unique.

Champions League quarter-final: The winners and losers

Most passes aimed long (20 per cent), fewest successful passes (1752), lowest pass accuracy (70 per cent), most possessions lost (1235), lowest possession (38 per cent), most blocks (25), most clearances (273), most headed clearances (157), most aerial challenges won (161).

Only Juventus have kept more clean sheets – 6 to 5 – but Leicester’s heavy defeat to Porto came when they’d already qualified from their group. Only Real Madrid (18) and Bayern Munich (14) have created more chances from set pieces than Leicester’s 12.

Those figures tell a story. Leicester spend most of the game in their own half soaking up pressure and seek to hit it long to Jamie Vardy whenever they can. They are less a team that like to control possession than one that entrust individuals to win their battles.

The first leg against Sevilla meant clinging on for dear life and hoping for a goal but the second leg – their first European match under Shakespeare’s control – was stunning in its effectiveness. Time and again Leicester crowded the middle, funnelled Sevilla out wide and dealt with what came from those areas either through blocks or clearances.

Then they hit them with a goal from a set-piece and another from what was initially a long throw. It was a night with its pages torn straight from last season’s playbook. They frustrated many an opponent in the Premier League with those tactics and have taken their methods continental. It was like Sampaoli had never seen Leicester play before and assumed his technically-superior players would show up and outplay them.

The blueprint for the victory and, we are led to believe, much of Leicester’s title success lies with Shakespeare.

He is a former youth coach who has worked beside whoever Leicester’s manager has been since 2011. He is steeped in English football; his playing days were largely spent in the lower divisions with teams like Walsall and Grimsby Town and worked at West Bromwich Albion with Bryan Robson and Nigel Pearson before joining the latter at Hull and then Leicester.

It’s the same story with many of their players. Manuel Neuer doesn’t have Bury, Falkirk and Notts County on his CV like Kasper Schmeichel does. A proud Dane he may be but his education is all English.

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Danny Simpson, Wes Morgan, Robert Huth, Danny Drinkwater, Marc Albrighton and Jamie Vardy have spent their entire careers in the English system, most of them with significant experience of what life is like beneath the top tier.

Games at the lower ends of the English league system are more representative of that natural British style. Where Spain has its short passing and dependence on possession, British football is more about long balls, set-pieces and contesting duels.

European teams don’t see it very often; only Atletico Madrid out of the remaining teams in the Champions League could be said to have a passing resemblance to a British team but there is as much reliance on technicality in that squad as there is on discipline.

Leicester changed dramatically and for the worse when Ranieri implemented his own ideas on the team this season. They look resurrected now that Shakespeare has restored their belief.

There is nothing fantastically complicated about what Leicester are doing. It relies less on the technical capabilities of the players – although to call them incompetent in that respect would be inaccurate – but more on the players’ desire and intensity.

These are not qualities you’ll find in any coaching manual. Those are the unquantifiables which have made champions out of men who are unashamed to play the British way.