What Leicester must do to ensure European adventures become the norm and not just a one-off

John Percy
The Telegraph
Leicester's success captured the imagination - Getty Images Europe
Leicester's success captured the imagination - Getty Images Europe

As the dust settles on Leicester’s Champions League adventure, the question dominating the thoughts of supporters is “what happens next?”

Leicester have lifted the Premier League title and reached the last eight in Europe’s platinum competition, embarrassing the bookmakers over a rollercoaster 18 months which has captured the imagination.

But the journey had to finish at some stage and there is now a sense that the miracle men will never be the same again.

Leicester will relinquish the trophy to either Chelsea or Tottenham Hotspur next month and with survival virtually assured, have six games to jostle for a midtable finish. 

It is a reality check for Craig Shakespeare and his players, who have defied expectation yet again to make the club's debut in the Champions League such an uplifting experience. 

Leicester-Atletico ratings

After beginning their tour on a balmy September night in Bruges, Leicester have enjoyed the ride and arguably deserve even more praise than they have received for reaching the quarter-finals and putting the frighteners on Atletico Madrid.

But if Leicester are to succeed in making European excursions the norm, this summer will be crucial in their attempts to reach the next level. 

For starters, Leicester will have to learn from the mistakes of last year’s response to lifting the title and dramatically improve their recruitment and planning. 

Keeping the core of the current squad together is also vitally important, though there is an argument that it may need a facelift too.

Kasper Schmeichel and Riyad Mahrez will inevitably be targets for clubs across Europe, while Jamie Vardy’s performances against Sevilla and Atletico Madrid have proved that the pre-match praise of Diego Simeone was not mere lip service.

<span>Riyad Mahrez will be a target for suitors in the Premier League and in Europe again</span>
Riyad Mahrez will be a target for suitors in the Premier League and in Europe again

Those three players are on long contracts with no release clauses – which means Leicester can demand a minimum of £30 million – but the chances of them hearing the Champions League anthem at the King Power Stadium are remote, certainly for the next 18 months.

Mahrez was convinced to give it one more season when he signed a new £100,000 a week contract in August and is the most likely to go. Schmeichel has been Leicester’s star performer in Europe and at 30 is approaching the prime of his career.

Leicester’s ambitious Thai owners will not be bullied, and have no need for the cash, but the lure of playing in Europe again could prove too much for some of the club’s players.

There will be departures. Record £28 million signing Islam Slimani will attract interest from China and many of the other summer flops, such as Ahmed Musa, Nampalys Mendy, Bartosz Kapustka and Ron-Robert Zieler, are likely to leave.

<span>Islam Slimani will attract interest from China&nbsp;</span>
Islam Slimani will attract interest from China 

Demarai Gray will want assurances over more game time next season and Leonardo Ulloa, despite his impressive cameo in the second leg against Atletico, could opt for a fresh start elsewhere.

Yet it is Leicester’s recruitment that will be crucial, with responsibility falling on the shoulders of Jon Rudkin, the director of football, and transfer chief Eduardo Macia. 

Quite simply, last summer was a disaster and many of the signings have not fully embraced the team ethic that made Leicester so successful in their title win.  

A new centre-half is the No 1 priority, a position that has been a source of frustration over the last three transfer windows. Middlesbrough’s Ben Gibson, Anderlecht’s Kara Mbodji and Hull City’s Harry Maguire will be on the list.

<span>Ben Gibson is a likely target for Leicester</span>
Ben Gibson is a likely target for Leicester

Leicester also tend to pursue long-term targets which means a likely return to sign Gaston Ramirez, who almost joined from Middlesbrough in January. 

Shakespeare’s future is also up in the air and a lot will depend on whether he wants to take the job permanently. Hugely respected by players, staff and the board, he would be a popular choice and proved in both games against Atletico that he is a shrewd tactician.

The former No 2 to Nigel Pearson and Claudio Ranieri, Shakespeare has grown into the role and would guarantee continuity after a difficult campaign.

It doesn’t have to mean the end of the journey, and captain Wes Morgan insists there could be more good times around the corner.

“We’re not in the running for the Championship now and we’re out of the Champions League, so yeah, the ride is over,” he said.

“It has been an incredible journey. I’m not sure who thought we could get this far, but we believed in ourselves and we achieved something massive. 

<span>Leicester's European adventure was good while it lasted</span>
Leicester's European adventure was good while it lasted

“To get all the way through to the quarter-finals in our Champions League debut season is a massive achievement. It’s over now, but we can leave the competition with our heads held high. We’re proud of what we’ve done.

“Can we get back into Europe? This season has been more downs than ups, but I feel we’ve turned it around and we’re coming good now. 

“If we had shown the same form all season that we’ve shown of late, we could be in a Champions League spot again.”

Leicester are nine points clear of the bottom three, in 12th place, and return to the league with a trip to Arsenal next Wednesday.

If Leicester get it right, the journey doesn't have to end here.

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