For many, the term ‘Legend’ is one that is used far too regularly within modern football but for some players, it serves as a perfect description of their time at a certain club. For Leicester City fans, ‘Legend’ does not even come close when describing one of their greatest ever servants.
It was confirmed by the club that at the end of the current campaign, Andy King will leave the King Power Stadium after 16 years of fantastic service. While the 31-year-old has been out of first-team reckoning for the last couple of seasons, his tenure for the Foxes is far from tainted, shown in the outpouring of emotion from fans on social media following the announcement.
King takes the glory
When King received his Premier League winners’ medal on May 7th 2016, he entered the footballing history books as the only footballer to win the top three English divisions with one club in the modern era. After making his professional debut during Leicester’s Championship relegation campaign, not even the most optimistic football fan could have fathomed that he would go on to collect a top-flight winners’ medal with the same club.
Arriving at Belvoir Drive as a 15-year-old rejected from Chelsea’s revolving door academy system the Welsh midfielder was highly fancied for an early breakthrough into Rob Kelly’s first team at the time. However, during one of the worst seasons in the history of the club, it was Gary Megson who handed King his first taste of professional football in a 0-0 home draw with Wolves.
The players being booed off in that fixture tells the story of the hostility existing between the club and the supporters who saw five different faces in the technical area in the first four months of that particular campaign which ultimately brought relegation to League One on the final day.
A long-term injury to Stephen Clemence provided his fresh-faced 19-year-old understudy with a chance to shine in Leicester’s maiden season in the third division and from there, he never looked back. Picking up the Young Player of the Season award following a convincing return to the Championship, King rapidly became one of the first names on Nigel Pearson’s team sheet. Consecutive Players’ Player of the Season awards for King coincided with his first taste of penalty-related play-off heartbreak with the club in Cardiff in May 2010.
He was applauded off the pitch that evening by the Bluebirds fans due to his first few appearances in the Wales national side following his international debut in the winter of that same season. His place in the squad was rarely in doubt from there and despite the nation’s inability to qualify for the major tournaments, the caps were quickly accumulating for the central midfielder who was able to play for the Dragons because of his Welsh grandfather.
Links to bottom-half Premier League clubs then came and went for the Welshman who was desperate to realise his top-flight dream with the Foxes where the fans had very much adopted him as one of their own.
His wait was even shorter than anticipated as Leicester put yet more play-off frustration behind them to cruise to the Championship title in the 2013/14 season. The form of Matty James and Danny Drinkwater in that side meant King spent the majority of the campaign on the bench but a few key goals saw him become the highest-scoring midfielder Leicester’s history.
The first of many long-term injuries for James saw King once again the beneficiary as he played a key role throughout the season with the Foxes somehow avoiding, what had looked like, certain relegation. His last-gasp winning goal off the bench against West Ham United in early April lit the touchpaper for one of the division’s best-ever escapes from relegation and provided the foundations for a story that could never have been predicted.
Fairytales for King
Under new manager Claudio Ranieri, Leicester started the season in fine form with King starting in each of the first four league games prior to the emergence of N’Golo Kante. With the pint-sized Frenchman grabbing all the attention in the middle of the park for the Foxes, their longest-serving player was once again demoted to the substitutes’ bench where he was still relied upon to make a difference in the closing stages of most matches. With the most unlikely of teams somehow top of the table at Christmas, a title challenge was beginning to gather momentum at the King Power Stadium.
Despite featuring in 21 of the first 29 league fixtures that season, Ranieri was understandably reluctant to change his midfield for the most important part of the campaign and King had to miss out on five consecutive matches as his side pushed to retain top spot.
But following a massive favour from the club that released him at the age of 15, the ‘Tinkerman’ made sure that his ever-reliable substitute would start in both of the final games of the season. That included a match against Everton that no Foxes fan will ever forget as King not only got his hands on the trophy but also scored a goal befitting of his extraordinary career at the club as he arrived into the box late and finished with the composure he had become so well known for.
There could not have been a more suitable goalscorer on a day where the City of Leicester realised just how much they owed to arguably their greatest ever servant.
King has since tested himself whilst out on loan at Swansea City, Derby County, Rangers and now Huddersfield Town as the realisation has set in that he must get used to life away from a team he has proudly represented for over a decade and a half. Even though his best years on the pitch might be behind him now, whichever club chooses to sign him next season will reap the benefits of a model pro, a great mentor and an even better man.
Over a 16-year rollercoaster period that no one involved with Leicester City could have ever begun to imagine, there is just one aspect that has never changed: the devotion and professionalism of Andy King, one of the greatest to ever pull on the blue and white shirt.