Patson Daka

‘Special European Away Days’ – Cottee’s Standout Moments From 2021/22

Tony Cottee selects his highlights from the season just gone, focusing on Leicester’s run to the last four of the UEFA Europa Conference League.
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Involved in a group containing Italian heavyweights Napoli, as well as Legia Warsaw of Poland and Spartak Moscow from Russia, there was natural frustration when City were unable to progress into the knockout stages of the UEFA Europa League for the second successive season.

However, there were still some historic landmarks in the Europa League campaign and one particularly significant moment came out in Moscow as Patson Daka remarkably scored all four of Leicester’s goals in a thrilling 4-3 victory over Spartak in the group stage.

Becoming the first Foxes player to score four goals in a game for 63 years, Daka entered the history books alongside Derek Hines, who did so in 1958, though the former Red Bull Salzburg striker stands alone as the first to complete the feat in a European fixture. As a fellow forward, Cottee appreciated the scale of the Zambian’s accomplishment even more than most.

“It’s hard to score one goal in a top-flight game, let alone twos and threes and fours,” the ex-Leicester striker exclaimed to LCFC.com. “I only achieved it twice in my career and that’s in 20 years, so it’s not an easy feat to do.

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Wesley Fofana & Brendan Rodgers
Wesley Fofana & Brendan Rodgers

The French defender embraces his manager after equalising in Rennes.

“Getting a hat-trick is hard enough, but to get the four goals was a fantastic achievement for Patson. I can remember a couple of the goals were really good finishes. I covered the game for LCFC TV, and it was one of those memorable nights against Spartak right near the start of the campaign.

“We all felt that off the back of that and his incredible individual performance that Leicester were going to have a really good run and certainly get out of the group in the Europa League. Sadly, it wasn’t meant to be. Losing to Napoli in that last game meant a third-place finish.”

Turning attention to a fresh challenge, the newly-formed UEFA Europa Conference League presented an opportunity to move into the latter stages of a European competition for the first time.

Not quite sure what to expect, it brought some magical memories, including a stunning James Maddison double at Randers, Wesley Fofana’s crucial comeback goal in Rennes and a spectacular late turnaround against PSV in Eindhoven, courtesy of Maddison and Ricardo Pereira, to reach the Club’s maiden European semi-final.

“It was a strange season really to play in the Europa League and then go into the Conference League, which was a new experience," the former Foxes forward recalled. “It was obviously the inaugural season for that, and I don’t think anyone really knew what it was going to be about. You don’t when it’s a new competition.

Not just for the players and the Club, but for the fans as well. To follow their club abroad, there’s something special about European away days.

Tony Cottee LCFC.com

“You’ve got to have a first season where it’s a bit experimental. I’m sure the players were a little bit shellshocked to go out of the Europa League, because they were certainly good enough to go through in that group, there were just a couple of inconsistent performances, which cost Leicester in the end.

“But once they got into the Conference League, there were some really good performances. Rennes and then beating PSV in the quarter-final to get through. Being a goal down and then Maddison and Ricardo getting those goals towards the end of the game, it was fantastic.”

Trips to Denmark, France, Netherlands and Italy allowed the Blue Army to get a further taste of European football, as well as welcoming some of Europe’s biggest names to Filbert Way, experiences which were denied in 2020/21 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite the end result, even the Roma tie will be looked back on fondly, according to Cottee, and make everyone connected with the Club hungry for more experiences on the biggest stages in the future.

“Not just for the players and the Club, but for the fans as well,” the 56-year-old explained. “To follow their club abroad, there’s something special about European away days. The Premier League is fantastic, we all know that.

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Leicester City
Leicester City

The players celebrate in front of the travelling Blue Army after defeating PSV Eindhoven in the quarter-finals.

“But I think the European nights at King Power Stadium and then to go and watch the Foxes play all around Europe, it was a continuation of what they had started in the Europa League, and obviously it was a big disappointment to go out to Roma and not get to the final, but it was the Club’s first-ever European semi-final.

“There’s great memories there for everyone that supports the Club and went out to Rome. There were some very positive signs.

“I firmly believe that the more times you play in Europe, whether it’s the Conference League, the Champions League as it was five or six years ago, or the Europa League – whichever competition it might be - the better it is for the players, the more experienced they get and the more chance you’ve then got of winning more trophies.”

Looking ahead, Leicester will concentrate on domestic matters during 2022/23, following an eighth-place finish in the Premier League last term, narrowly missing out on another season of European football.

That could, however, be a blessing in disguise, Cottee believes, to enhance freshness within the squad, ready to climb back to the upper echelons of the top-flight table.

Going into the new season, I really believe that it probably will work in Leicester’s favour. They’ve only got to worry about the domestic competitions. They can concentrate on the Premier League.

Tony Cottee LCFC.com

The former West Ham United star added: “It’s a difficult one because if you would say to the players and the manager at the start of every season, ‘would you rather play in Europe or not?’, I think any player with ambition would say, ‘of course I want to play in Europe’. There’s a choice of three competitions now.

“But if you look at the amount of games that it means – you get the six group games whichever competition you’re in. If you then get through to the knockout stage, Leicester had the additional play-off round as well to get into the last-16, so that meant an enormous number of games.

“When you’ve got the injuries that Leicester have had this season, it puts huge pressure on the squad. Going into the new season, I really believe that it probably will work in Leicester’s favour. They’ve only got to worry about the domestic competitions.

“Obviously, they’ll be involved in the League Cup and the FA Cup, but they can concentrate on the Premier League.”

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