Muzzy Izzet

Former Player Remembers: Muzzy Izzet

Amid Leicester City's UEFA Europa League campaign, midfielder Muzzy Izzet spoke to Club Historian John Hutchinson about his experiences playing for the Club in the UEFA Cup in 1997 and 2000.
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Muzzy made 319 appearances and scored 47 goals for City between 1996 and 2004. He also played for Turkey in the FiFA World Cup Semi-Final against Brazil in Japan in 2002. Muzzy began by recalling the UEFA Cup tie against Atlético Madrid in September 1997.

“We’d qualified for the UEFA Cup by beating Middlesbrough in the League Cup,” Muzzy said, “and we were excited to be playing in Europe. The UEFA Cup was a knockout competition then and obviously we would have preferred an easier draw than Atlético Madrid for our first game to break us in a little bit. Didn’t Atlético go on the win the UEFA Cup that year? They had top players like [Christian] Vieri, Kiko and Juninho so we knew we were going to be up against it. 

“The atmosphere in Madrid was electric. We turned up at their stadium the night before the match to train on the pitch. It was an old school stadium and quite run down. The walls were crumbling and cracking and you came up from underneath it to get onto the pitch. 

Martin [O’Neill] was quite laid back making sure we were okay and trying to take the pressure was off us. On the night of the game as we got near
to the stadium there were loads of their fans. 

"The atmosphere was completely different from a Premier League game. It was more like a carnival atmosphere. but it was a bit intimidating. If you look at our team photo before the match, we look scared to death! We weren’t but we were thinking: ‘What the hell is this?’ 

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Ian Marshall

Ian Marshall bundles the ball into the net to give Leicester the lead in Madrid.

“In the match, we got off to a good start. After about 10 minutes we went 1-0 up when Ian Marshall scored. I think Walshy (Steve Walsh) headed one 
down for him to put away, but after that, we didn’t really play well, they got on top and we ran out of steam a bit.” 

Atlético Madrid scored two goals in quick succession about 20 minutes from the end. Juninho scored first and then Vieri, who was one of the best strikers in Europe and a big money player, scored with disputed penalty after Geli appeared to dive after being challenged by Steve Guppy. 

Thinking back, Muzzy continued: “Decisions always seemed to go against us against bigger teams, but before the game we would probably have taken 2-1 as a result. The away goal was important and we thought that if we could get off to a good start in the second leg at Filbert Street, we could win it. 

“The atmosphere for the second leg at Filbert Street was electric. The crowd was brilliant. We needed them to be and they understood what we needed from them. We knew that if we could ramp it up a little bit, get off to a good start and put them under pressure, we’d get the momentum behind us. I can still picture and still taste that night. It was a special night under the lights.” 

Leicester City dominated the first half. Atlético had a player sent off after about an hour after Juan Lopez made a bad challenge on Emile Heskey. Juninho and Kiko scored two late goals, Garry Parker was sent off after receiving a second yellow card for taking a free-kick too quickly. Muzzy was tripped three times in the game but all three penalty appeals were turned down. 

After the game, Martin was pleased with the performance. We’d done everything he’d asked of us. He was a straightforward manager who didn’t ask for anything that he didn’t believe we could do.

Muzzy Izzet

Thinking back, Muzzy recalled: “People say we could have two or three penalties and they were all on me. I’d certainly say one of them was a penalty. You’d think that with the home crowd there we would have got one of the three, like they did at their place. We all know what happened to the referee after the game. He was dropped from the UEFA list. We just needed one of those decisions to go our way. We would probably have scored from the spot and then it would have been game on. That would have made it 2-2 on aggregate and if it had stayed that way we would have gone through on the away goal. 

“After the game, Martin was pleased with the performance. We’d done everything he’d asked of us. He was a straightforward manager who didn’t ask for anything that he didn’t believe we could do. He knew we would have to play above ourselves and for the first half we did, but you need a bit of luck when you play these matches over two legs and we didn’t get any luck. 

“Our team had a real connection with the fans. We were a little bit of a scruff bunch. A lot of people called us a pub team. We all lived near the city and we socialised in the city so we had that connection with the fans who could relate to us. 

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Martin O'Neill

City manager Martin O'Neill after the Club's UEFA Cup exit against Atlético - their last European home defeat - in 1997.

“As a team we’d come a long way in a short time. We’d got promoted from the Championship. The next season we finished ninth in the Premier League and won the League Cup and now we were playing Atlético Madrid in Europe. We did this without spending much money. A lot of players were scouted from lower league teams. I came from Chelsea reserves. Lenny (Neil Lennon) came from Crewe. It was all a bit of a mismatch but we just came together and everything gelled.” 

Two years later, Leicester City, as League Cup winners in 2000, once again qualified for the UEFA Cup. This time they were drawn against Red Star Belgrade.

The first leg was at Filbert Street. As kick- off approached smoke bombs and flares from the Red Star fans enveloped the pitch. Within the first minute, Milenko Ačimovič scored for the visitors through the smoke with a long range shot from 35 yards. Gerry Taggart equalised just before half-time and the match ended in a 1-1 draw. 

“It was just our luck to be drawn against another massive club in the first round wasn’t it?” Muzzy joked. “It was another great atmosphere at Filbert Street. I remember you could barely see at the beginning because of the smoke. They were a very good team though. 

The atmosphere that night was full on. It was horrible. It wasn’t a nice place to be. You could feel the atmosphere. It wasn’t a nice crowd to play in front of, I can tell you.

Muzzy Izzet

“The return leg should have been in Belgrade but the security situation there couldn’t be guaranteed as they had issues in their country (because of the recent war in what was Yugoslavia) so the match was in Vienna.” 

In the game, Red Star scored after 22 minutes, Muzzy equalised just before half- time, Red Star went ahead just after the break and then Goran Drulić made it 3-1, which was the final result. 

“I didn’t think at any stage we were going to get a result there,” Muzzy said. “I equalised with a tap in and it was game on again, but they just had more quality throughout their team. They started picking us apart and we got tired. 

“The atmosphere that night was full on. It was horrible. It wasn’t a nice place to be. You could feel the atmosphere. It wasn’t a nice crowd to play in front of, I can tell you.” 

The match in Vienna was to be Leicester’s last match in European competition for 16 years. That season, Peter Taylor had taken over as manager from O’Neill. The team had started well and was still in fourth position in the Premier League as late as March with 10 games to go until the end of the season. However, it was a time of transition and there were problems beneath the surface as Muzzy explained. 

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Muzzy Izzet

Despite the game being moved to Vienna, a raucous atmosphere still awaited the Foxes.

He added: “I was playing pretty well throughout the season, and I’d been selected for Turkey. Performance-wise the team was okay but it was a time of transition. Martin and Emile [Heskey] had gone and Neil Lennon wanted to leave. New players were coming in and, as people say to this day, some of the new players weren’t quite up to speed. You could see what was coming six months down the line. Even though at one stage we were top of the league, I could see it was a false position. We didn’t have the quality coming in to replace the quality that was leaving. 

“I was injured for the last third of the season. We were playing Wycombe in the cup. Peter Taylor had made three substitutions at half time. Then I pulled my calf. He couldn’t bring me off as he had used all his subs. He pushed me up front and I played the last 30 minutes with a torn calf. If I could have come off I would probably have been alright after two or three weeks but I did more damage by staying on and the injury went from a grade two tear to a grade one.” 

Following Muzzy’s injury, the results started to slide and the Club finished in 13th position. Muzzy stayed at Leicester until July 2004, making a total of 319 appearances and scoring 47 goals. 

“I loved it at Leicester,” Muzzy concluded. “I was playing football with my mates. You can’t even call it work. At one stage, I could never have believed in a million years that I was ever going to play professional football. I was grateful for everything the Club gave me. I appreciated everything. I loved it all. That’s why I still live here.” 

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