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Ten Years Since King’s Landing

This week, LCFC.com marks 10 years of Andy King, the one constant of Leicester City’s rise from the third tier to Premier League champions.
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A decade, in any profession, is a substantial amount of time. An often turbulent, occasionally dizzying, always riveting, 10 years have marked the most momentous chapter in Leicester City's history.

In the same period of time it has taken over 150 others to pull on the famous Foxes shirt, one man, Andy King, has been there throughout it all.

King made his debut as an 18-year-old Academy graduate for Leicester City in 2007 in what can only be explained as a difficult time for the Club. He played the full 90 minutes during a goalless draw with Wolverhampton Wanderers at King Power Stadium.

"The fans get frustrated and we share that frustration, but there were things they can be pleased with," admitted then City boss Gary Megson. "I think we are searching for a bit more confidence and belief. We are seriously lacking quality." King made two more appearances for Megson, who just nine games into his tenure, later left for then Premier League side Bolton Wanderers.

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First City goal
First City goal

He quickly settled into life in a City shirt, scoring his first senior goal with a 35-yard effort during a 2–1 defeat to Southampton on 1 December, 2007.

In came Ian Holloway at the end of November and King was used just eight more times throughout the campaign. Holloway did not feel the fuzzy-haired youngster was ready for Championship football. City were not ready for it either and had to prepare themselves for a season in League 1, where King would flourish.

The Barnstaple-born midfielder missed just one of City's league fixtures that season under Nigel Pearson who, at the first time of asking, led his men back to the Championship. King's debut strike against Southampton the season before a stunning long-range effort on Filbert Way ultimately counted for nothing, but his nine League 1 goals in 2008/09 helped the Foxes to a record points total of 96.

Back-to-back promotions were on the cards. King hit double figures again during City's return to the second tier, but then came that infamous penalty shootout in the Play-Off Semi-Final second leg against Cardiff City.

"There are a lot of disappointed players in there but we have achieved a lot in our first season in the Championship," Pearson said after a game that was memorable for all the wrong reasons. "I'm going to leave them with their own thoughts. It is a difficult thing for the players to deal with. It is a difficult way to go out." King, a fresh-faced 21-year-old, had already tasted disappointment for a second time in his short career, but unimaginable glories lay ahead.

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Punching above his weight
Punching above his weight

Despite the match ending in a 3-2 reverse, Andy scored at Premier League Fulham in the League Cup in 2008.

"I remember the first time I played with him and he'd done really well in League 1," reflected former midfielder Richie Wellens. "It was a big step up for him to the Championship because he was obviously still physically underdeveloped. His first game was Swansea and he struggled. Nigel Pearson actually said to me at the time, 'don't worry about him, he'll be fine but look after him'.

"Nigel was in the process of forming me and Kingy as a midfield partnership. That season, he scored a lot of goals and over the years, you can see how he's developed into a really good midfield player."

It would take City four seasons and two more managers to earn promotion to the Premier League. Paulo Sousa and ex-England boss Sven-Göran Eriksson failed, but Pearson, returning to the Club after a short spell up at Hull City, succeeded. Under three different managers, the man that remained was King. 

By this time, he was a fully-fledged Wales international and his consistent performances in the No.10 shirt were paying dividends for Leicester City. At that time, City were a club in transition with a high turnover of playing staff and just a season before had suffered heartbreak in a dramatic Play-Off Semi-Final defeat to Watford. Many thought it would haunt the Foxes for some time to come, but it didn't. A year later, they were on a tour of the city celebrating a return to England's top flight for the first time in a decade.

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Push for the Play-Offs
Push for the Play-Offs

During Leicester's first season back in the Championship, King helped propel Pearson's men towards the Play-Offs.

"During the good times, Andy was always a focal point amongst the group of players and during the difficult times as well,' said Pearson, now manager at Belgian outfit OH Leuven.

"He was always somebody who you know is going to be dependable. Those are qualities which he brings and it's a little different. You can only have success if your players have those qualities.

"You experience good and bad times as a player. In form and out of form, in the team and out of the team. To be a success at a Football Club over such a long period, you have to be continually reassessing your targets and I'd say that somebody like Andy King is able to stay motivated.

"I think he's grown as a player and probably the circumstances of his journey in the first team has been a really unusual one, but a correct one. He made his debut the year before I arrived, but Leicester's relegation to League 1 was an opportunity for him to break into the first team and make a real impact.

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Premier League Fox
Premier League Fox

Once Pearson returned to the Club, City eventually secured promotion as Championship champions in 2014.

"When I came in, he wasn't at the forefront of pre-season that year and by the end of it, he was in the team. That is a combination of a player being ready to take advantage of an opportunity and he did that, and then he was conscientious enough to develop his own game."

The summer 2014 addition of legendary midfielder Esteban Cambiasso - who in just one year at the Club became a cult hero - and the consistency of Matty James meant Academy graduate King did not feature as heavily as he had previously had done. Nonetheless, he scored what is considered by many as one of the most important goals during the greatest escape the Premier League has ever seen.

"He's 'Mr Leicester', that's what I call him anyway," joked Jamie Vardy, a team-mate of King's since 2012. "He's the ultimate professional and he's brilliant around the place. He hasn't played every game, but when his time comes, you can definitely count on him." King's time certainly came and Leicester, without doubt, counted on him at that moment in time.

Not beaten by more than two goals throughout the 2014/15 season, seven points from safety, City looked down and out. With four wins from 29 games, survival looked improbable, but when mid-table West Ham United paid a visit to Filbert Way in early April, everything changed.

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Vital strike
Vital strike

One of King's most famous strikes for City came late on to seal a 2-1 success over West Ham in 2015, spurring Pearson's men to top flight survival.

The graceful Cambiasso gave Leicester an early lead with a fine half-volley, but the small glimmer of hope that City fans sensed seemed to be fading, as David Nugent had a penalty saved and Chiekhou Kouyate equalised. Then, up popped King, in the right place at the right time, to scramble the ball over the line with four minutes to play. Off he sprinted, down the touchline past King Power Stadium's East Stand, before being mobbed by his team-mates.

It triggered a sensational run of form in which Leicester lost just once - to the champions elect, Chelsea - in nine games. King was also on target against Swansea in that spell, as City ended the season in the relative comfort of 14th position, having climbed six places in as many weeks.

For Kasper Schmeichel, however, it is not just his influence on the pitch that he holds in such high regard. "Kingy is more vital than anybody really understands," said the stopper, who has a clear respect for his close friend.

"You take away football and look at him as a person and what he brings to the Club - the example he sets not just for the youngsters, but for everyone. He's had a lot of knockbacks at a club that have had a lot of players come in in his position and gone ahead in the pecking order just because of how much they cost.

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Survival secured
Survival secured

King was a key man for Pearson during a run which included seven wins in nine games to stay up in the Premier League against all the odds.

"He's kept his head through all that. He's worked hard in training and he's been the same guy all the time and he keeps working his way back into the team. It's a testament to his character and to his upbringing. It's an honour to share the dressing room with him."

In 2015/16, the Foxes, under the guidance of charismatic Italian Claudio Ranieri, went from improbability to impossibility. King was once again faced with a challenge to maintain his spot in the team, with Danny Drinkwater and N'Golo Kanté forming a formidable partnership.

Nevertheless, he played 25 times during the Club's greatest-ever campaign and on the day City were crowned champions, fittingly it was King who scored their second in a 3-1 victory over Everton.

He celebrated in the pouring rain at King Power Stadium, his No.10 shirt drenched, but nothing could dampen his spirits. That evening, the man that had worked his way up from League 1, would lift the most sought-after trophy in English club football to the heavens.

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King's coronation
King's coronation

Andy is the only player to ever win the League 1, Championship and Premier League titles in his career.

King was a Premier League champion, and deservedly so.

"Andy has not only won League 1 and the Championship, but he's also won the Premier League and it was great to see him up there on that podium after all the hard work, because that's what people don't see," said Craig Shakespeare, who has worked closely with King as both assistant manager and now manager.

"In those afternoons, where a lot of players would disperse, he put in a lot of work in the gym to improve his body strength and mobility. It shows what you can achieve with endeavour and professionalism. I would say to any of our Academy lads, look back to when Andy first started and what he was and see the difference that he is now."

As a result of their 2015/16 triumphs, the Foxes competed in the UEFA Champions League for the first time in their 133-year history the following season. King featured in four of their European fixtures, completing 90 minutes in the wins over FC Copenhagen and Club Brugge and coming on at half-time in the Quarter-Final first leg at Atlético Madrid.

There would be no fairytale ending for City that term, no march to more silverware. One feeling lingered, however. Despite all the odds, City could compete at that level. They had showed spirit to retain their Premier League status while battling it out with some of the most illustrious clubs on the continent.

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Fans' favourite
Fans' favourite

Having been with the Club through thick and thin, the Blue Army have a strong bond with Andy today.

King, who left Chelsea in his teenage years, had developed into the player he knew he could be. He is the only man to win League 1, the Championship and the Premier League and he is the highest goalscoring midfielder the Club has ever had.

"There's been so many highs," said the midfielder in a recent interview with LCFC TV. It's been such a good time and there's not many clubs that have been on the rollercoaster that Leicester have over the last 10 years. For me to play a massive part in that is a massive honour. Everyone one knows how much I love playing for the Club and hopefully that can continue.

"I'd like to say thank you to everyone that's supported me along that journey because it's made a massive difference to me and some of the things that we've managed to achieve along the way together have been amazing."

From an eager youngster playing for his shirt in the third tier to the most successful player the Foxes has ever produced, King can celebrate his 10 years knowing the ride, for him, is not over.

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