Andy King: A Record-Breaking Career At LCFC
Add to that a debut in the UEFA Champions League and it’s clear that the 28-year-old is living a Leicester City fairytale that started when he joined the Club’s Academy over a decade ago.
Andy, aged 15, signed for the Foxes following six years as a youngster at Chelsea. Within three years, the midfielder was an FA Academy Premier League winner.
“I remember that season really well. We had a great youth team,” said a reminiscent King while sat in King Power Stadium’s home dressing room. “Winning the league gave us confidence because we knew at that time we were the best young players around the country.
“The Club had to take note of us because there really wasn’t much better out there because we won the league. Maybe it hasn’t really worked out that way for everyone in that team but it gave us great confidence going into the summer and a real springboard into the first pre-season as a pro.”
King didn’t have to wait long for his professional debut. Despite a change in managers – Gary Megson replacing Martin Allen – then a 19-year-old, he made his first appearance in Leicester blue against Wolverhampton Wanderers in October 2007.
Little did King know, he would go on to become the most decorated player in the Club’s history.
“I came back for preseason and Martin Allen had just been appointed as manager,” King continued. “We were trying to impress him and he got sacked shortly after and Gary Megson came in – it was Gary who gave me my debut.
“It was 0-0, but it was the most enjoyable 0-0 I had played in because it was my debut. You want to savour every moment of that having come from the Academy. It was a great night and I remember the game very well.”
With a debut under his belt, an eager King was eyeing more success with the Foxes, starting with a maiden strike for the Club – that came in stunning fashion against Southampton two months after the Wolves game.
“I wouldn’t shoot if that was me now,” reflecting on his 35-yard screamer against the Saints. “I think we were losing 1-0 and it sort of came back to me and as I looked up there was a load of red and white shirts coming at me.
“Now I would probably pass the ball but then I didn’t want to lose it so I thought if I shoot and it goes over then it gets me out of jail. I hit it to see what happens and luckily it flew in. Maybe I need to start doing that more now!”
It did fly in, and so did many more goals for the Welshman. King hit a career-high 16 strikes during the 2010/11 campaign and to this date is the Club’s leading goalscorer from midfield.
His ability to drift into the box unnoticed played a huge part in City restoring their Championship status after dropping down to England’s third tier in 2008.
Relegation was of course difficult to take, but King believes his team-mates’ winning mentality paid dividends, as City stormed back into the Championship with 96 League 1 points – a then Club record points haul.
“Relegation was hard because no one wants a relegation on their CV. For me to get that in my first season wasn’t great,” said King. “I had made my debut and played quite a few games that season, but I wanted to put it right.
“A club of this size was in a position it shouldn’t be in. It was a brilliant effort from the team. It was a brilliant effort from everyone that season. You have seen how when teams go down to League 1, it is a tough league and difficult to get out of, but it was important we bounced back straight away.
“We did that with flying colours and it was great to be part of a winning culture and looking back now Leicester were always finishing 15th, 16th, 17th in the Championship after we were relegated from the Premier League, so it was almost a good thing.”
King knew that the Foxes did not belong in the League 1 and after five seasons in the Championship, including two unsuccessful play-off attempts, an opportunity to play at the highest level in England looked to be dwindling.
But under Nigel Pearson, City hit the heights that for so long had been expected of them and after a 10-year absence made it back into the Premier League.
“I was young, playing football and scoring goals,” said the midfielder. “Everything was going well. The aim was always to get to the Premier League and we had come close. As each season goes by you kind of wonder ‘is it going to happen?’
“At this time I was getting spoken about as perhaps someone who could move on to a Premier League club. As each season passed by I wondered if I had missed my chance. To finally to get there was an amazing feeling and to do it with Leicester was something I had always wanted to do.
“I had a picture the other day of the cover from a programme in League 1 saying I had wanted to play in the Premier League with Leicester. Eight years or whatever after it has happened so it is an unbelievable feeling now whenever I come in and see the badge on the side of the arms and walk out to play. It is a brilliant feeling.”
City’s 2014/15 campaign was simply a tale of heroics. At the start of April 2015 last year, they were seven points adrift at the bottom of the Premier League table and had won just four games all season.
A monumental shift in form followed, as Leicester won seven of their final nine games to finish in the relative comfort of 14th, completing what is widely known as the greatest escape in Premier League history.
“My biggest memory is the first game of the season against Everton,” reflected King on where City’s 2014/15 season all started. “They were a long established Premier League team. We went toe to toe with them that day and maybe could have won it on another day.
“It gave the team belief and me belief that we could belong at that level. It was an up and down season but to pull it out of the bag the way we did at the end showed the never say die attitude we have within the group.
“We have seen it for a number of years now. We have a pool of players that everyone knows doesn’t buckle under pressure. We lost that play-off game to Watford which was heart-breaking but we came back the next season and got promoted.
“Many a team might have crumbled. We were bottom of the league nearly all season in our first season in the Premier League but we turned it around. It was one of the greatest escapes in Premier League history.”
That escape all started against West Ham United on Saturday 4 April, 2015. Cheikhou Kouyate cancelled out Esteban Cambiasso’s opening goal, but up popped King four minutes from time to earn City their first league win since January.
“It is one of my favourite goals even though it was only from a couple of yards out. I have scored some good ones so that shows how important a goal it was,” King said of his goal against West Ham.
“It set us up on that winning run and to score your first Premier League goal for a club you have spent your entire career with is a special moment and one I won’t forget.”
A change in managers over the summer saw the Foxes appoint the charismatic Claudio Ranieri, but the aims of survival remained and 40 points was the target set by the Italian.
King continued: “I thought ‘the same again’ but if we could do it more comfortably. Even now with the money and the quality in the Premier League, for a club like Leicester in the third season in the Premier League, it is a case of just getting to that 40 points as quickly as we can.
“That was certainly the aim at the start of last season. We built momentum and when you are on a run like that it can be hard to stop. The same is the case when things aren’t going so well big teams can get into trouble.”
For King, what followed, even now, is difficult to fathom. City recorded victory after victory, smashing record books and defying the odds to win their first-ever Premier League title.
It made King the most decorated player in the Club’s history and he is the only man ever to win England’s three top leagues in the Premier League era.
“We are six months down the line and it is still hard to put into words what happened,” King said. “Unbelievable is a word used a lot but it is the best one to describe it.
“It is still unbelievable and it will only grow bigger as the seasons go on as the bigger teams take a stranglehold on the league again, like they have started to do again this season. It will be talked about for years to come and to be a part of that is an unbelievable feeling.”
With their Premier League champions status secured with a point at Manchester United on Sunday 1 May, the Foxes lifted the trophy in their final home game of the season against Everton.
King Power Stadium was already a special place for the Academy graduate – to this date, no player has scored more goals on that turf than him – so it was fitting that King got on the scoresheet against the Toffees on a day that for him is currently unrivalled.
He bagged City’s second in the 3-1 win, taking him joint-second with David Nugent in the list of Leicester City scorers since 2000 with 59 strikes.
King continued: “The Everton game was probably the most enjoyable day in my life at the moment. To have played in that game and to score, and then get the Premier League trophy afterwards, it probably couldn’t have gone any better for me on that day.
“It is certainly a day I will never forget and it is the highlight of my life.”
The inspiring story of Leicester City becoming Premier League champions was touched on when King reported for international duty with Wales a few weeks after lifting the most coveted prize in English football.
Wales finished top of their qualifying group and went on to reach the semi-finals of Euro 2016, only to be beaten by eventual winners Portugal.
King’s 90 minutes against the European champions saw him become only the second City player ever to appear in the semi-finals of a major international tournament alongside Muzzy Izzet – a player held in such high regard by the Club’s supporters.
“I know Muzzy really well and we speak a lot, not just about football but general stuff as well when I see him because I know the regard he is held in,” added King. “He is such a down to earth guy as well and still coaches some of the youngsters in the Academy.
“He has time for everyone. I appreciate everything he has done and vice versa with what I have done as well. We have a good relationship and of me to be ranked up with him is massive for me.”
Further international achievements followed for King in October, when he equalled John O’Neill’s record of 39 caps while a Leicester City player.
Now eyeing his 40th, King said: “To have won that many international caps with Leicester is massive and I am proud of that. Hopefully, sooner rather than later, I will get the next one to take the record but I know I have to play my football at Leicester to get that international recognition.”
King is the only player over the age of 27 in the Premier League to have played for just one team throughout his senior career.
For it to be with Leicester City has been an easy choice.
King said: “They gave me a chance when I was released by Chelsea and I will always be grateful for that. The relationship I have with the Club has come on over time. You can’t just walk through the door and have a relationship for one or two weeks.
“I am very proud of the relationship I have with the supporters and the staff. I can’t see myself being anywhere else. To have that is magical for me and hopefully they appreciate me as much as I appreciate them. That is a nice feeling when I come into work.”
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