“He’s been a great player for us coming into the team because what’s allowed us to increase our win rate is our work rate. It’s so important, how you press play up the field, make it really hard. That’s been the foundation of our work. He embodies all of that.”
Brendan Rodgers discusses the impact of Marc Albrighton, scorer of Leicester’s first goal in their 2-0 win over Rennes on Thursday night. It’s the fifth win in six games since Albrighton returned to the team. As Rodgers suggests, this is no coincidence.
“I am happy you said that,” says Albrighton sky sports.
The man himself is too modest to make the connection but his presence helps to turn the tide. In the absence of senior players through injury, he set the tone.
“With the team at the moment there are a lot of young players, so the manager wants to integrate the younger ones with the seniors because you don’t want the team to be full of young people. So he wants a senior figure there. -down with a little experience.”
It’s the first time Albrighton, now 32, has started so many consecutive games since the winter of 2017. “I didn’t know that. It sounds a lot when you say it like that.” After years of rotation, he feels the difference. “I feel like I’m in a rhythm now.”
Leicester are finally finding their groove too. It hasn’t been the season they were hoping for after following up their FA Cup victory in May with the Community Shield win in August. Injuries undermined them. Dramatic defeats shattered confidence.
“The Spurs game, with the two late goals there, really touched us,” says Albrighton, referring to the January game which Leicester managed to lose despite the stoppage time. “The match that followed the one against Brighton, we still cashed it late,” he adds.
“After that it was back to the wall and the same thing kept happening.”
Defending set pieces has become a huge problem. “You go into games and half think about this stuff and care too much about it.” The chatter began to have an impact. “There is always a lot of outside noise.” But the team remained united.
“I think it was really important for us. If everyone starts going their own way, it won’t work. But everyone is on the same page and everyone wants the same thing. This It’s only when you get a few wins that your confidence improves.”
The relationship with Rodgers is strong.
“I know the manager has a lot of faith in me,” he said. “We’ve had many conversations about that and how comfortable he is playing me in different positions.”
It has been a feature of Albrighton’s recent run down the side. Continuity of selection did not mean continuity of position. A reigning winger on the left wing, he has been used on the right, while filling gaps at both full-back positions over the past month.
“Left-back was a bit of a shock, to be honest. I had to play at right-back and then Luke Thomas felt his hamstrings the day before.”
Was it complicated to fix?
“There were a few things about the position where your body is at the wrong angle, you used to be on the right side and now you’re on the left side,” he explains.
“I should have seen the writing on the wall, really. If I had looked at the players I played with at Villa, they all did, be it James Milner, Ashley Young or Stewart Downing. They all had spells where they went to full-back positions.”
For Albrighton, the problem solver, the model professional – “I’m not one for the things that surround football” – Milner, in particular, is an inspiration. “He was the first player I looked at and I thought, ‘Wow, he’s committed. He works really hard.
“He stayed until god knows what time in the gym doing extras. He was the first of every morning to take care of himself, to really put everything into it. It wasn’t just about showing up, to train and go home. James Milner was the first person I had actually seen do that.”
It wasn’t always so for young Albrighton. “My routine is now millions of miles away from when I was younger,” he admits. But now he’s leading by example, taking advantage of the first-class facilities at Leicester’s new training ground.
“In the morning I will stretch and make sure that I am well prepared for training, because finally training is now much more difficult than it was when I started. Training replicates the game, so you need to make sure you are ready to perform at the top.
“I work a lot more in the gym. We also have the pool and the facilities here to help us recover. It’s all essential, but it’s nice. I just want to keep doing what I’m doing, come in all the days and playing football. That’s all I’ve ever known.”
Some may find it shocking when footballers refer to playing the game as a job, but when Albrighton speaks in those terms he is disarmingly humble.
“I have friends who have jobs where they have to get up early in the morning and earn their living this way. It’s my way of earning a living. It’s my way of taking care of my family. have I worked hard since I was six years old.”
It brought rewards to a player who, after all, is still underrated. He is the only English player of this century to have won a Premier League title, contested an FA Cup victory and yet never been selected by his country. With Leicester now favorites to win the Europa Conference League, he may not be done yet.
“I never thought we would go on and win what we have. I think it’s through hard work and when you win things it proves that hard work pays off and it will come to a time. It just encourages you to work harder and keep working.
“Who knows what’s around the corner?”
Until then, Rodgers knows who he can count on. “We have talented young players who just want a bit of advice,” Albrighton said.
There is no one better to guide them.