The captain’s privilege of being the man to hoist a trophy to the heavens is a long-established tradition in football. It evokes grayscale memories of Bobby Moore lifting a still-gleaming Jules Rimet Trophy towards the skies beneath the Twin Towers at the old Wembley.
Before 2016, Leicester City supporters associated the honour with Colin Appleton, Steve Walsh and Matt Elliott. But on 7 May, five years ago, as a brief summer tempest subsided to be replaced by bursting sunshine, a roar echoed around Filbert Way and into the ear drums of Morgan, the Foxes’ newest captain fantastic, as he lay hands on the Premier League trophy.
It was a moment – shared alongside manager Claudio Ranieri – which would bring tears to the eyes of supporters of all generations – and the significance of the occasion wasn’t lost on the man at the centre of it all as Leicester City were officially coronated as champions.
“Sometimes, when I think about it, it feels surreal,” he laughs. “But it did actually happen, I know! Everything that comes with the final day, when you get your hands on the trophy, was fantastic. The atmosphere in the stadium, the events that were put on, all the fans who turned up, the way the game went… then you’ve got the walkout on the carpet.
The greatest day in Leicester City's history - and Wes Morgan was at the very centre of it.
“I was the last one and everyone’s ready to go. You get that chilling feeling through your body and I’ll always remember that. When I grabbed the trophy, before I lifted it, I closed my eyes, just to take a mental picture, so I remember it for life. When I lifted the trophy, everyone was screaming and I was the happiest man in the world.”
This summer, Wes’ Leicester City story, as a player at least, will come to an end. But to only look at his time as a Fox through the prism of that unforgettable afternoon in May 2016 would be missing the point. He’s been a constant throughout arguably the most transformational era in the Football Club’s entire history, including Saturday’s magical FA Cup triumph.
Morgan was signed in 2012 by Nigel Pearson at the outset of the Nottingham-born manager’s second spell in charge of the Foxes. Sven-Göran Eriksson’s project to buy experienced Premier League players to guide City to promotion had fallen short and Pearson opted for a different approach. He wanted Football League experience to define his Leicester squad.
The Foxes signed Wes Morgan from East Midlands neighbours Nottingham Forest on 30 January, 2012.
In that regard, few came with more miles in the tank than Morgan. Wes may look more like a rugby player, or even a wrestler, but he’s a gentle giant who, within six months of signing terms at the Club, was made captain by Pearson. He immediately spotted his leadership qualities.
“Obviously, after being at Nottingham Forest for so long, it was a big decision and a big move for me to leave my hometown club,” Wes concedes. “It was all I’d known. I felt like I’d served my time at Forest and I wanted a challenge, so I went down the road to Leicester.
“What was happening at Leicester, with the new owners and what they wanted to achieve, as soon as I heard they were interested, it was something I wanted to make happen, so that’s where it all began. It’s never easy settling into a new club, but I felt right at home.
“The boys were very welcoming and I hit the ground running. It didn’t take me long to get into the team and I thought I performed well. I imposed myself on the team and the changing room. Nigel, who was the manager at the time, he saw something in me and, come the new season, he made me the captain.”
Morgan has rarely been the sort of captain portrayed in films and TV shows about football. They always seem intense and demanding. Wes takes a more considered approach. He champions his team-mates and gives them a voice in team meetings. He’s there to reprimand when needed too, but above all, he tries to guide his peers on the pitch.
After only half a season at the Club, Nigel Pearson entrusted Wes Morgan with the captain's armband ahead of the 2012/13 season.
“You have different types of captain,” he explains. “You have those who shout and scream, some who demand so much of players and of themselves. I would describe myself as a captain that tries to lead by example on the pitch with the way I go about my game.
“I put everything on the line to make sure I get a block in or a tackle. I make sure, if the players are having a bad game, I try to get them back on track and doing their jobs. I don’t mind telling anyone off on the pitch in the right way if they’re not doing the job.
“You might fall out on the pitch, but we want to win, and after the game you kiss and make up and everything’s alright. That’s the type of captain I am. I always encourage, I always try and help as best as I can on the pitch. Off the pitch, I’m very approachable. If there’s any problems or issues anyone’s coping with, I’ll try and help them in whichever way I can.
“I like to be the bridge between the management staff and the players. I’m always in conversation with both sides about anything anyone will need. All these qualities are what makes me the captain I am.”
Once I started playing regularly, we always had that ambition to get into the Premier League.Wes Morgan
Pearson had spotted something in Wes. He was the man he wanted to lead the troops into battle as City looked to end their Premier League exile. The top tier had always felt like a distant, faraway land for the Foxes and their fans. The Club had even dropped into the third tier of English football more recently than their last, all too brief, stay in the Premier League.
Under the guidance of Khun Vichai and Khun Top, though, Leicester were finally looking upwards. The Premier League felt closer than it had for a very long time on Filbert Way.
“First of all, I felt the step up in class,” Morgan recalls, looking back to his early days at the Club. “I remember the first training session, I was up against Lloyd Dyer and he squared me and pushed it down the line and I was like: ‘Wow, this is really intense’.
“I quickly adjusted and I was a part of the team. Those are my earliest memories with a different group of lads… good, quality players. Once I started playing regularly, we always had that ambition to get into the Premier League. I spent the first half-season after joining in January just feeling it out, getting used to the players and getting to know them.
“In my first full season, we tried to push for the Championship and we had a great season, getting into the play-offs in dramatic fashion, playing Forest on the last day. I think we had to rely on another result that day, but we managed to get into the play-offs.”
Heartbreak came for Leicester in the play-off semi-finals at Watford in May 2013, but it would act as a source of inspiration the next season.
City had squeezed into the play-off picture on the final day of the 2012/13 season. Leicester actually won their semi-final first leg tie against Watford, courtesy of David Nugent’s strike at King Power Stadium, but they headed to Vicarage Road expecting a stern test of their mettle.
The Hornets were the league’s entertainers, with players like Matěj Vydra and Fernando Forestieri being overseen by Gianfranco Zola in the dugout. They’d done the double over the Foxes during the regular season too. It was a real play-off blockbuster on 12 May, 2013.
“We all know the drama that happened at Watford,” Morgan sighs, maybe hoping we’ll move swiftly on to a different topic. “Nobody could have written that and it was very, very sad on the day, but I think it wasn’t meant to be for us.”
In the final moment, City trailed 2-1 on the day, but were level on aggregate. Anthony Knockaert won and took a penalty. Manuel Almunia, though, palmed it away and dealt with the rebound in extraordinary fashion. The Blue Army’s hands were already in their hands. Maybe that was a blessing as, 19 seconds later, Troy Deeney crashed home a winner.
I remember after the game, everyone was down. There were a few tears from the boys, but we dusted ourselves off, reconvened for the next season, and we went again.Wes Morgan
In quite unbelievable fashion, the Foxes had gone from being one kick away from a Wembley final to being consigned to another season in the second tier.
“Watching the game as a neutral must have been fantastic,” Morgan says. “For us on the pitch, when we’re so close to getting to the final and playing at Wembley, we were thinking we’re one step away from the Premier League, for it to be taken away, especially with how events unfolded, it’s hard to take.
“Maybe if the game went a different way, if they scored in the 70th minute and then we lost the game, it would have been easier, but to be one moment away from scoring a goal and getting through to the final, to missing it and conceding, it’s very hard.
“I remember after the game, everyone was down. There were a few tears from the boys, but we dusted ourselves off, reconvened for the next season, and we went again.”
That’s probably one of my highlights at Leicester, getting promoted to the Premier League.Wes Morgan
As Leicester’s players took refuge in the away dressing room from the delirious celebrations unfolding around them and Foxes fans trudged onto coaches and trains as quickly as possible, a steely determination was forged in the aftermath of that fateful day in Watford.
Pearson remained at the Club and so did the bulk of his squad. Modest moves were made in the transfer market, but the ambition remained the same – promotion to the Premier League, preferably without the anxiety-ridden uncertainty of the Championship play-offs.
At the outset of the 2013/14 season, Leicester were on the periphery of promotion talk. Queens Park Rangers, Reading, Bolton Wanderers and Nottingham Forest attracted more backing at the bookmakers. Records, however, would tumble as the Foxes lifted the Championship title for the seventh time. Leicester broke their records for most points in a season (102), most league wins (31), home league wins (17) and consecutive league wins (9).
“I know we got some records along the way through that season,” Wes says wryly. “We got to 102 points, which was fantastic. We played so many games and went on a winning streak in there as well, so it was a fantastic season. That’s probably one of my highlights at Leicester, getting promoted to the Premier League.
The Foxes captain lifts the Football League trophy to the skies after the Club's record-breaking Sky Bet Championship victory.
“That was my dream, to play in the Premier League. At that time, it was the biggest point of my career. You’re thinking about playing against all the best players, the best teams, and going to the best stadiums. There’s so much that goes with promotion.
“The way we did it, as undoubtedly the best team in the league that season, the boys were flying, and we were just excited for the next season to start and play against the big boys.”
Once the ticker tape had been swept away following a party at King Power Stadium on 3 May, 2014, attention quickly turned to the Club’s first Premier League season in a decade. Arrivals included Marc Albrighton, Leonardo Ulloa and Argentinian legend Esteban Cambiasso.
Aside from the occasion flash of brilliance, though, Leicester seemed destined for an immediate return to the Football League. The same side which stunned Manchester United with a 5-3 victory in October also went 13 games without a victory and were consigned to the bottom of the table at Christmas in 2014.
English football heritage dictates that if you’re bottom of the pile when presents are opened on 25 December, you’re overwhelmingly more likely to suffer relegation in the months to follow. Leicester, however, stayed there, rooted to the basement, until as late as April in 2015.
We picked up our first win and then a second and we were like: ‘Right, we need to keep this going!Wes Morgan
“Obviously, it was our debut season in the Premier League,” Morgan adds. “During that season, we felt we were performing relatively well, but we were on the losing side each week. It was difficult to take. We kept going, but we just needed something to turn.
“Our luck did change for us to start turning performances into results and winning games. It took a lot longer for that to happen than we would have liked! We started to actually pick up the wins we needed.”
It just wasn’t happening for Leicester but, as Wes recalls, their hard work finally started to be rewarded with mere weeks to spare. A dramatic, last-gasp win over West Ham United was the catalyst. That was followed by another win… and then another.
In the end, City would secure seven victories from their final nine games to perform possibly the greatest Great Escape in Premier League history. Pearson’s men would finish 14th in the table, a spacious six points clear of the relegation zone.
Quite possibly the greatest-ever Great Escape from relegation was secured with seven wins from the last nine games in 2014/15.
“We picked up our first win and then a second and we were like: ‘Right, we need to keep this going!’” Wes continues. “All of sudden, your mentality changes. The momentum changes and you start to feel like you’re not going to lose a game.
“You believe you can go out there and you can win. We had that throughout that period. When you’re at the bottom of the league with nine games to go, needing points, which we’ve struggled to get all season, to get seven wins from the last nine games was incredible.
“I remember reading the media talk and everybody had written us off. Nobody had been bottom at that stage and survived relegation, but we did it. It’s testament to the boys, we dug in, we fought to the very end, we picked up big wins. Seven wins out of nine is incredible at any stage of a season, but we finished the Great Escape and lived to fight another season.”
Pundits struggled to explain City’s startling turnaround. Tweaks were made as Robert Huth’s introduction on loan from Stoke City led to a new formation, 3-5-2, affording Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy with more attacking freedom to showcase their abilities.
But above all else, it was sheer unadulterated desire which fuelled Leicester’s recovery. Wes himself points to the experience and maturity in the dressing room as one reason.
One of the moments I do remember is the Sunderland game. That point was a special point and it was enough for us to stay up in the end.Wes Morgan
“The pressure was on, but we changed formation,” Morgan adds. “I remember playing three at the back with me, Huthy and Was (Marcin Wasilewski) and we had a real connection.
“We were determined to our task. There’s no key moment, but we realised what we needed to do each week. One of the moments I do remember is the Sunderland game. That point was a special point and it was enough for us to stay up in the end.
“It was a big occasion and we felt the pressure, but we came away with a draw and that was enough. The celebrations after that game were amazing and the boys in the changing room were ecstatic. We just had some really strong characters that were men. They stood up to be counted and would put their bodies on the line for anything.”
So, Leicester were looking forward to another year in the Premier League. It was the first time since 2001 that City had secured successive terms in the top-flight. But Pearson’s departure threatened to derail their plans to establish themselves in the league.
Claudio did great in not changing too much. He recognised the momentum and the form that we produced at the end of the season before that.Wes Morgan
The man the Club turned to was Ranieri, the Tinkerman of Chelsea, who had not managed a team in danger of relegation since his early days as a manager back in the late 1980s. Yes, his CV was impressive, but he didn’t have the right experience, many thought.
Morgan was away with Jamaica at the GOLD Cup. He was an onlooker. It would only be natural for him to feel apprehension about returning to East Midlands.
“I was away on international duty, but I’d seen that Nigel had left and we got Claudio in,” Morgan reflects. “For me, first of all, I missed all of pre-season and I was just keen to get back and introduce myself to Claudio and make sure he knew what I could do.
“The beginning of that season was very strange. I wasn’t sure what I was coming back into, but it was pretty much the same to what I left. Claudio did great in not changing too much. He recognised the momentum and the form that we produced at the end of the season before that. It continued into the next season and we had a great start.”
A captain's goal at Old Trafford would ultimately be the point which secured the Club's first-ever Premier League title triumph.
Leicester had been a force of nature over the final weeks of 2014/15, but could they maintain that momentum under a new manager in a new campaign? They started the season as favourites for relegation with survival odds even shorter than some of the promoted sides.
Quite ludicrous odds of 5,000/1 were offered on City winning the Premier League. Simon Cowell becoming Prime Minister was available at 500/1. While the Foxes started 2015/16 in excellent fashion, it was all wrapped up in the media category of being a ‘flash in the pan’.
Soon, the Foxes would retreat back into the relegation picture, they assumed. But Ranieri’s Leicester side kept on winning football matches. While the game’s elite overcomplicated matters, City’s simplicity won them admirers from afar. Ranieri likened their style of play to the Royal Air Force, surging forwards with irresistible speed when the time was right.
By November, Leicester had touched the league’s summit for the first time in 16 years and Vardy, the man signed from Non-League outfit Fleetwood Town three years earlier, was on the cusp of achieving something remarkable. If he found the net against Manchester United on 28 November, 2015, the slender Foxes forward would have netted in 11 consecutive top-flight games in a row for Leicester City.
Throughout the season, despite how well we were doing, how good we were, for me personally, I never got too carried away.Wes Morgan
The Foxes drew with United 1-1 at King Power Stadium – a single draw in between seven victories as the nights drew in – and Vardy was on the scoresheet. “It’s eleven, it’s heaven!” roared Sky Sports commentator Martin Tyler as Vardy and City stole the headlines again.
“Once Vards started getting to his sixth goal and then his seventh goal, everyone started getting excited,” Wes admits. “You’re just willing and urging him on to get another one.
“I’m sure he didn’t care how it happened, he just wanted another goal. The closer he was getting to that achievement, the pressure was on, but that season was such a special season.
“The goal he scored against Manchester United was fantastic. It sparked great scenes with everyone going crazy. We were all buzzing for Vards. He’d done it for Leicester, he’d done it for us, and he still holds the record.”
Vardy’s achievement was an individual landmark, but a collective belief was growing. Leicester were still in the title picture in the New Year, although nobody considered they’d still be there in May and Morgan admits the players needed some persuading too.
The game we played against Man City away, we pretty much battered them, and came away as convincing victors… at that point, I thought to myself: ‘Maybe we do have a chance! Maybe we can pull off a miracle here!’Wes Morgan
“Throughout the season, despite how well we were doing, how good we were, for me personally, I never got too carried away,” he concedes.
“We were in great form, flying high, but winning the Premier League didn’t occur to me midway through the season and into the second part of the season.
“It didn’t pop into my head. The game we played against Man City away, we pretty much battered them, and came away as convincing victors… at that point, I thought to myself: ‘Maybe we do have a chance! Maybe we can pull off a miracle here!’
“From that point on, I thought this was our time, we could do it. I know not long after we didn’t get the result we wanted at Arsenal, but we were still flying high.”
May is football’s crunch month, where titles and relegation fates are so often decided. On the first day of that decisive month in 2016, Leicester headed to Old Trafford to tackle 20-time English champions Manchester United. A win would give them the title.
Although City would be denied the three points they needed, it’s a game which ended with the Theatre of Dreams rising to their feet to applaud the unlikely title contenders from Leicester and included Morgan’s favourite-ever goal in the Club’s now iconic colours.
A solitary point would ultimately be enough for the Foxes as second-placed Tottenham Hotspur were held 2-2 by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge just over 24 hours later.
Sheer delirium for Leicester's captain and his team-mates as the title triumph is confirmed.
“There’s a few goals that are in my top five,” he muses. “One of my favourite goals would be the one I scored at Old Trafford to get the draw. That point was a vital point in our run-in towards winning the league. It proved to be the point that actually did win the league because Chelsea got the draw against Spurs, so that’s got to be my most special goal.”
While the Blue Army crammed into pubs and living rooms throughout the county and beyond, Morgan and his team-mates headed to Vardy’s house in Melton Mowbray. By half-time, Spurs were two goals ahead and the mood was subdued. Something was in the air, though…
“Everyone’s sat there in anticipation,” he explains. “We were just sat there, it wasn’t much to talk about because Chelsea were two goals down, but everything changed in the second half when [Eden] Hazard scored that goal. There were crazy scenes of celebration!
“It was a lasting memory for a lifetime. It was a bunch of players that had come from the lower leagues who had to fight their way all the way up to the Premier League. Players like Riyad Mahrez and N’Golo Kanté, nobody had ever heard of them when they came from abroad. They did an unbelievable job.
It was a very, very special moment for everybody involved. To win the Premier League, it was amazing and something you can never talk enough about!Wes Morgan
“The story of Vardy, playing in Non-League and then getting the record. For me, I didn’t get to the Premier League until I was in my 30s. There’s so many stories among that group of players. This group came together to create something that I’m not sure will ever happen again, a team like Leicester, at that time, winning the Premier League against all odds.
“It’s something that doesn’t really happen but we made it happen. It was a very, very special moment for everybody involved. To win the Premier League, it was amazing and something you can never talk enough about!”
Leicester’s reward was a magical day on 7 May, 2016 as images of Andrea Bocelli, Andy King and Wes himself were beamed around the world to a TV audience of billions. A euphoric trophy lift at King Power Stadium was followed by open-top bus tours in Leicester and Bangkok. An intoxicating summer of pride and happiness was only just beginning.
For Ranieri and the players, though, the 2016/17 would bring even more excitement. A squad who only two years earlier had considered promotion to the Premier League to be the pinnacle of their careers would soon be competing in the UEFA Champions League.
City were underdogs, despite overcoming Club Brugge with a three-goal victory in Belgium on the opening day of the group stage. It would take 412 minutes for Ranieri’s men to even a concede a goal in Europe as they progressed into the knockout stages as Group G winners.
A magical UEFA Champions League run to the quarter-finals was aided by Wes Morgan's goal against Sevilla in the last-16.
Champions League nights unlocked a level of football the Foxes faithful thought they would never sample. Every matchday was magical in its own way, none more so than when Leicester stunned European experts Sevilla in the Round of 16, with Morgan on the scoresheet.
For Wes, European football was appointment television. His spot on the sofa was permanently reserved at a friend’s house. But to actually compete at that level himself was never even a dream. It was so unlikely the thought had never even crossed his mind.
“On Champions League nights, I’m usually round a friend’s house to watch one of the games!” he chuckles. “I love watching the best players, the best teams, that’s what we do. To actually be in the Champions League was one of the things I never thought I’d actually do, so that was great to be a part of that competition.
“We had a great run, getting to the quarters. We gave a great account of ourselves and I got a goal against Sevilla, which was fantastic.”
In more recent times, Wes has been an invaluable figure as the Club look to develop talents like Wesley Fofana and Çağlar Söyüncü in the centre-back positions. Morgan has been able to see first-hand the progress behind made under the management of Brendan Rodgers. The title-winning captain looks into the future with excitement for Leicester City Football Club.
The Foxes returned to the European stage in recent seasons and Wes Morgan has remained an invaluable member of Brendan Rodgers' squad.
“At Leicester, we always aspire to be better and, for one reason or another, it didn’t quite work out for a little while and then Brendan came in,” he says. “Brendan gave us some real direction and focus. He changed so much stuff internally and externally for us.
“These changes have made us such a better team. You can see from the sort of positions we finish in now in the league and the performances we put in that we’re a much better side.
“To play European football this season has been great. We narrowly missed out on a Champions League spot last season, but this season, we’re in a great position. We’re going from strength to strength and that’s down to Brendan.
“He’s come in and given us a real identity, a real focus. It’s little things like his man management. He gets around every single player and makes it his job to understand you and to talk to you. It’s not easy, it’s only 11 players who can play and you need a squad of 25, so to make everyone happy can be impossible, but he makes it work.
“He rotates players were he can to give everyone time. Things are looking bright for the Club. We’re in a world-class facility now, which is great, and we’re performing at the highest level on the field. In the future, I expect big, big things and, you never know, we could pull off a miracle again and win the league. I think we’re more than capable of doing that.”
Tears swelled in the eyes of Foxes fans yet again on Saturday as Leicester finally won the FA Cup for the first time in 137 years of history. The Club have now lifted the top three honours in English football and, after a late Morgan cameo at Wembley, Wes has lifted two of them.
Wes Morgan alongside other members of the Club's Premier League title-winning squad on the day he lifted the Emirates FA Cup.
“Probably only 24/48 hours beforehand, I was included in the squad, so I was just buzzing about that and then got onto the bench,” he explains. “Then I got onto the pitch and won the FA Cup! It’s a crazy turn of events, I was shocked that I was on the pitch and this has happened.
“I just need to let it sink in! We’re heading in the right direction. The last time we won anything was obviously the Premier League, and to win the FA Cup just shows what we’re capable of and the direction we’re working towards.
“It’s unbelievable. It’s a fantastic club, we’ve got great owners, we’ve got great management and we’ve got great players, so the future is very bright.”
And so, Wes Morgan’s time as a Leicester City player is nearly over. A colossal figure in the Club’s history will soon hang up his boots and look to forge a different path his career. As a new chapter begins, still at King Power Stadium, he’s keen to address the Blue Army directly.
“It’s been fantastic playing for the Foxes fans,” he concludes. “I’ve had such a good time here. To come to Leicester has been one of my best choices. I can always look back on the memories. We’ve had some great times together.
“The fans have always been good to me. I always played my heart out for them.”
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