Muzzy Izzet

Izzet: I Owe So Much To Leicester

It's Saturday 26 February, 2000, the night before Leicester City's seventh trip to Wembley in nine seasons, and Muzzy Izzet is preparing for his fourth outing beneath the Twin Towers.
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After signing for the Football Club, initially on loan, in March 1996, the tenacious midfielder progressed from talented youngster to perhaps the most iconic figure in Martin O'Neill's side.

He was there when Steve Claridge sealed promotion to the Premier League in the '96 play-offs, before also settling a League Cup Final replay at Hillsborough against Middlesbrough a year later.

Izzet, though, was now a central pillar in O'Neill's dressing room as the Foxes prepared to face Tranmere Rovers, managed by John Aldridge a division below Leicester, in the first cup final of the new millennium.

City were on course for their fourth consecutive top-10 finish in the Premier League and were favourites to beat Tranmere, who would eventually finish 13th in the old First Division, now the Championship.

However, despite various play-off successes at the national stadium, the Club was yet to win a cup final there. In seven outings (four in the FA Cup, three in the League Cup), City had lost six times.

[O'Neill] would never stop you having that if you wanted to. None of us did, but he said: ‘If that makes you unwind, a glass of wine or whatever, but obviously don’t have five or six!’

Muzzy Izzet LCFC TV

As Izzet says, though, O'Neill was a master at man-management and was determined that his players would walk out on the most famous football pitch in the world with a relaxed frame of mind.

"Martin would let you go out and you could go to the shops if you wanted to, or go and have something to eat out at the hotel," Muzzy explains. "He’d even let you go and have a pint.

"He would never stop you having that if you wanted to. None of us did, but he said: ‘If that makes you unwind, a glass of wine or whatever, but obviously don’t have five or six!’

"Anything that made you feel relaxed, he let you do. He wanted you to take your mind off the game. I just remember it being quite low-key. It always was low-key.

"We had some of the lads playing cards, just taking your mind off the game. Some lads used to sit in their rooms and want to focus on the game.

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Allan Nielsen
Allan Nielsen

Allan Nielsen broke Leicester hearts, scoring a late winner for Tottenham in added time in 1999.

"Other lads, the majority of us, would just have a game of cards and just relax and unwind."

City's most recent Wembley excursion, meanwhile, had come just 12 months earlier as 10-man Tottenham Hotspur lifted the League Cup following a 92-minute winner from Allan Nielsen.

"I just remember on the morning of the game, coming down to get on the bus, Frank [Sinclair] had his bag packed and was jumping in a taxi," Izzet recalls.

"I didn’t quite realise what had happened and Martin's told him to home. I think he'd missed a team meeting the night before.

"I understand Martin’s thinking behind it, ‘no one’s bigger than the team’ and everything else, but was it the right thing at that time? I don’t know, I think we missed Frank on the day.

I just remember sitting there and I thought: ‘What a missed opportunity’.

Muzzy Izzet LCFC TV

"I think we needed that pace in our team. We weren’t blessed with pace in the team at the back. The centre-halves that we had were Walshy (Steve Walsh), Matty Elliott and Tags (Gerry Taggart).

"Aerially, they were great, physically too, and they had leadership skills, but they didn’t have that pace that Frank had, so we definitely missed him.

"I think, even to this day, Martin regrets that, but you’ve got to make these big decisions sometimes. Then the match was a poor game. I just remember I didn’t particularly play well.

"I don’t think we played well as a team. Sav (Robbie Savage) and Justin Edinburgh had a bit of a barney, I think he got sent off, Justin Edinburgh. Even then, we didn’t capitalise.

"We just didn’t get going in the game and then they went up the other end in the last few minutes and scored a header. I just remember sitting there and I thought: ‘What a missed opportunity’.

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City fans at 2000 League Cup Final
City fans at 2000 League Cup Final

Thousands of Foxes fans headed to the capital for the League Cup Final.

"We didn’t have our A-game. We had to have our A-game to win games like that and we just, on that day, didn’t turn up for whatever reason."

There was no disruption on the morning of Sunday 27 February, 2000. Everyone was focused on one thing: winning the League Cup.

The run to the final, told in a new feature-length documentary from LCFC TV, 20 Years On: Leicester's League Cup Triumph, was full of twists and turns.

Theo Zagorakis went in goal at Crystal Palace, Pegguy Arphexad was the shootout hero against Fulham and Elliott silenced Leicester's critics in a fraught semi-final with Aston Villa.

But it was all leading to this. As Izzet and his colleagues awoke on cup final day, it wasn't long until the team coach was navigating its way through a sea of blue and white on Wembley Way.

It’s a big occasion, you want to play well, you’ve got a lot of friends and family coming to the game, millions of people watching it, so there is pressure, even though it was ‘only’ Tranmere.

Muzzy Izzet LCFC TV

"When you’re on your way to Wembley, that’s when butterflies start kicking in," City's popular former No.6 says. "You used to watch FA Cup day, all the build-up to it, it was great.

"Driving through the thousands and thousands of supporters, we knew that we had a really good chance of winning the game, a really good chance.

"Personally, you want to play well, you want to win, you want to put a good performance in. It’s the Mecca of football, isn’t it?

"I remember in 1980, West Ham played Arsenal. Just looking at the pitch, how beautiful it looked, and then West Ham winning it… I remember Trevor Brooking scoring a diving header and I’m thinking: ‘I’d really love to play there’.

"It’s a big occasion, you want to play well, you’ve got a lot of friends and family coming to the game, millions of people watching it, so there is pressure, even though it was ‘only’ Tranmere.

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Matt Elliott
Matt Elliott

Two headers from Matt Elliott put Leicester on the brink of glory against Tranmere.

"What was good about our team was that we underestimated no one because we were that team, we were the team that was always underestimated. So, there was going to be no slip-ups.

"We’d trained hard, prepared right for it, and we knew it was going to be a tough game, but we felt that we had enough quality in our team to win the game."

On the day, two Steve Guppy corners were expertly nodded past Rovers 'keeper Joe Murphy by Elliott, either side of former Fox David Kelly's equaliser, while Clint Hill was also sent off for Aldridge's men.

The army of Foxes fans went home thrilled and Izzet could toast just another success during his time at the Club, but there's one thing the Turkey international regrets. Not scoring at Wembley.

"I just remember missing a sitter… it happened in slow motion!" he says. "The ball came across me, I was about six yards out, and as it’s on its way, I’d already thought I was going to score at Wembley.

I was thinking: ‘I had a chance to score at Wembley and I blew it’. Even to this day, I can’t believe it. It was such a simple touch I had to do, but I was thinking before I’d even scored it.

Muzzy Izzet LCFC TV

"I’ll never forget that because it came into my mind: ‘I’m going to score’. As I thought, I miss-controlled the ball, and I didn’t even have a shot! Even though we won, I was thinking about that afterwards.

"I was thinking: ‘I had a chance to score at Wembley and I blew it’. Even to this day, I can’t believe it. It was such a simple touch I had to do, but I was thinking before I’d even scored it."

Like so many of his team-mates, Izzet's time at City were the best days of his career, a period of time which, for many of the Blue Army, cemented him as 'Mr. Leicester'.

Naturally those sunny afternoons at Wembley are among the highlights for Izzet, who initially joined the Club as a youngster, before leaving eight years later as a two-time League Cup winner.

"You start off in this career and you just want to play professional football and earn a living in it," Muzzy adds. "You go all round the country playing at great stadiums.

"As a kid, I could only dream of achieving that and then, to win trophies on top of that, was just icing on the cake. On top of that, you play international football.

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Leicester City win the League Cup
Leicester City win the League Cup

The Foxes toast their second League Cup triumph in four years.

"I owe all of it, a lot of it, to Leicester and Martin for giving me that opportunity and that springboard to be able to go on and play internationally.

"We were a bunch of lads that was put together by Martin and we literally just did out best. That’s all we could do.

"We were given an opportunity to play in the Premier League and we all really wanted to do it and we wanted to play hard for each other.

"We didn’t want to let ourselves down, we didn’t want to let Martin down, we didn’t want to let the fans down. So, personally, I’m glad that I got the opportunity to play for Leicester.

"My three kids were born in Leicester, I still live in Leicester. If you’d have said to me 30 years ago that would be the case, I don’t think I would’ve believed it.

"I thought I’d be in London doing whatever it was I’d have been doing, but Leicester’s a big part of my life. I’ve got a business here in Leicester now and everything else, so I have to thank them."

20 Years On: Leicester’s League Cup Triumph can be viewed now, for free, on LCFC TV.

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