Six days later, the Foxes headed to Crystal Palace. A first loss in four games followed, but, sparing the result, it marked the start of Simpson’s Leicester City career.
Only 44 league appearances later, just as he had dreamed when coming through the ranks during an illustrious period in Manchester United’s history, Simpson lifted the Premier League trophy for the first time in his career – but in Leicester blue.
“For me personally, to play 100 times for any club is a big thing, especially for Leicester and everything that’s gone on in the time that I’ve been here,” said Simpson after his century of appearances came against West Bromwich Albion last month.
“Even more so in the way that my first season went, because it was very up and down. I remember my first start for the Club in the league was Aston Villa away. I think Ritchie [De Laet] felt ill in the morning and Nigel [Pearson] told me I was playing.
First start at Villa
The right back made his first Premier League start for City against Aston Villa.
“I just remember feeling a lot of pressure because I’d been at the Club three or four months. We just about lost, but I had a decent game and then I got a bit of a run from then on.”
A call-up into Pearson’s starting XI on the day of a game was no doubt unexpected for Simpson, but what proved to be a bigger surprise was in fact his move to the Foxes just a few months prior.
He continued: “I’d played every game the season before for QPR. I even remember one of my last games for QPR was actually against Leicester at King Power Stadium and I was captain.
“I remember the players that we had in that team and for Harry Redknapp at the time, he chose me as captain. We went on to play in the Play-Off Final and we won that game.
A Surprise Move
The right back reveals how in just 24 hours of being told he could leave QPR, he arrived at Belvoir Drive for his medical at the Club.
“In pre-season, you’re thinking you’re back in the Premier League and you’re wanting to kick on. He wanted to change the formation and play a 3-5-2 or however you want to look at it. Then, we signed a couple of loan players.
“I played in the cup and then the next morning he pulled me in and told me that QPR have had some interest from Leicester and that I could go. He said it was up to me because I had a few years left on my contract. Within 24 hours, maybe less than that, I was here doing my medical.”
Both City and Queens Park Rangers earned promotion to the Premier League at the end of the 2013/14 campaign. While Leicester surged to the Championship title with a Club-record 102 points, QPR defeated Derby County in the Play-Off Final at Wembley Stadium.
“When I looked at it and saw that QPR and Leicester had both come up at the same time, I looked at it from the outside in and even though I hadn’t come here yet, I could see that it was a stable club,” reflected Simpson.
Promotion with QPR
The defender helped Queens Park Rangers beat Derby County in the Play-Off Final.
“At that time, I wanted to be a part of cementing QPR in the league. The group of players at Leicester had been here for years. They had a good core of English players and there were players that I had played with at Manchester United in the youth teams and obviously it was a bit closer to Manchester.
“Sometimes, what’s meant to be is meant to be and things happen for a reason.”
Upon arrival, Simpson took the No.17 shirt at the Club, with De Laet occupying No.2 jersey, traditional for a right back. The Belgian completed his move to King Power Stadium in 2012 and, by the time Simpson had made his first start, De Laet had already notched up exactly 100 appearances in Leicester colours.
On struggling to nail down a spot in the starting XI in his early days at the Club, Simpson said: “I understood my competition and I know we’d signed Mauricio Isla at QPR and, if I had decided to stay there, it would have been easier getting back into the team rather than ahead of Ritchie at Leicester.
Ritchie De Laet provided some stern competition for Danny Simpson.
“He’d been the Club’s right back for maybe three or four years and he’d been fantastic that season. I knew what I was up against but it was new to me because I’ve always been used to playing wherever I’ve been at.
“That was a learning curve coming here and having to work even harder to try and get into the team. Seeing the lads play, watching from the stands and playing in the Under-23s is all part of learning – it makes you stronger.”
Simpson managed to get a run in the side and helped City to crucial winter wins over Hull City and Aston Villa in their bid for survival, making 15 appearances in all competitions between December and March. Then came a change in formation.
“It’s funny because I was in the team and then we changed to the 3-5-2, which was why I left QPR,” said Simpson. “At that point, it wasn’t about me, it was about our Premier League status.
While Danny Simpson didn't play as much as he would have liked, he was delighted to help the Foxes retain their top-flight status.
“The anger and disappointment wasn’t there like it was at the start of the season because I was supporting the lads and I wanted us to stay in the Premier League. I felt like I’d contributed a little bit by playing a couple of months solid.
“I obviously had off-the-field issues as well but everything I came through made me the person and player I am today.”
With their top flight status secured, a change of managers in mid-2015 saw Claudio Ranieri named the new City boss. The Foxes permanently recruited three defenders that summer – Christian Fuchs, Robert Huth and Yohan Benalouane – but Simpson was determined to become a regular, regardless of the formation.
“I saw it as a clean slate and a fresh start for everyone,” said Simpson of Ranieri’s appointment. “It’s always the case when a new manager comes in. I felt like Ritchie had been Nigel’s right back for that many years.
I don’t know if ‘misfits’ is the right word, but it was a group of players that had come together from different situations, from lower league to free transfers.Danny Simpson
“Claudio came in and he’s looking at everyone in different positions. No one was his player in any position so it was an opportunity to start again, even though it was my second season.
“Even in that season I didn’t play the first maybe five games. There was a point where maybe I was going to leave but I was tired of moving clubs and I thought I would give it until January under the new manager.
“I remember I was in training and Steve Walsh (former Head of Recruitment and Assitant Manager) came in and said ‘the manager wants you’.
“He told me that although I hadn’t been involved in the first month, he liked my attitude in training and, if I kept it up, I’d get my opportunity. I was on the bench against Arsenal for the 5-2 game and the next week we had Norwich away and I was in the team.”
Lifting The Premier League Trophy Aloft
Danny Simpson won the Premier League title for the first time in his career with Leicester.
The tables certainly turned for Simpson, who played 30 times in 2015/16 en route to becoming a Premier League champion.
“I don’t even know how to explain it, even after two years on,” he said of his biggest achievement as a professional footballer. “I don’t know if ‘misfits’ is the right word, but it was a group of players that had come together from different situations, from lower league to free transfers.
“When you get on a run like that, you get that feeling that when you go onto the pitch, no matter what, you’re not going to lose – you’re going to at least draw.
“Once you’ve got that feeling in the camp, even if you have an off-game, you still think you’re going to win and that’s invaluable. That was a key part and also, every single player played the best they’ve ever played altogether at the same time.”
A Premier League champion
The former Man Utd man lifts the Premier League trophy aloft.
In those 10 months, the stars seemed to align for Simpson. His off-field battles were resolved and he was enjoying football – the sport he adored at the Club he loved – again.
He continued: “All the stuff off the field had gone and I’d sorted that out. You don’t realise at the time, but when there’s stuff going on off the pitch, it can affect you on it. It can affect your performance and it can affect your training.
“That was all sorted and I was more focused. I was back in the team with a new manager and it all just came together at the right time. With the run that we went on, not just me but everyone in the team was consistently playing – there wasn’t much chopping and changing. The focus was just on training and playing in the next game.”
The right back had already won the Championship twice while at Sunderland and Newcastle United but Saturday 7 May, 2016, when Leicester City were officially presented with the Premier League trophy, is a day that he will never forget.
A day to remember
The Salford-born defender celebrates with his title-winning team-mates.
“As a young lad being at Manchester United and seeing their players lifting trophy after trophy, you see what it means to them,” he added. “That was the environment that I grew up in.
“I knew that most of us had won League 1, the Championship and other various competitions, but to lift the Premier League trophy that day, it was just unbelievable.
“I think it went too quickly to be honest with you. I imagine that all of us would give anything to go back to that day.”
It is clear that Simpson’s seven years at Manchester United, during the trophy-laden Sir Alex Ferguson era, meant a great deal to a local lad born in Salford, Greater Manchester.
Seven years at Man Utd
Danny Simpson progressed through the Manchester United academy and made his first competitive appearance in September 2007.
The integration of academy youngsters into the first team’s environment gave Simpson the opportunity to mix with some of the most talented players in the Red Devils’ history.
Leicester City, at Belvoir Drive, have adopted a similar system.
“I always see young lads here now and if they ever wanted to talk about anything or wanted some advice, I hope they would ask me because I’ve been there,” said Simpson.
“I was fortunate enough to speak to Rio Ferdinand and I was very close to Patrice Evra – he helped me a lot because he was a full back as well.
I’m very settled and I feel like I’ve grown up a lot here in this environment with the type of people that work for the Club. That’s not just the players, but the staff too.Danny Simpson
“Then you have the local lads like Wes Brown and Gary Neville. Watching them and seeing them train the way they did in a professional manner, that’s what you saw every day and that’s the standard you know.
“Being able to be in that type of environment and learn from some of the best players massively helped me.”
While Simpson, now donning the No.2 shirt, has started all 12 of City’s Premier League games this term, he knows that competition in the squad is as high as ever and with a new manager in Claude Puel at the helm, he believes he still has plenty to prove.
A Positive Future For Simpson
The defender looks ahead to working with manager Claude Puel at Leicester City.
“Obviously, I love it here,” he concluded. “I’m very settled and I feel like I’ve grown up a lot here in this environment with the type of people that work for the Club. That’s not just the players, but the staff too.
“We have a new manager too, so even though we’ve only played a few games, you still feel like you’re on trial a little bit. I want to make sure he sees me as his first option.
“If that’s the case then obviously I’ll try and get to 200 appearances if I can. I feel fit and I feel good. I’m going to try and learn under him because he’s come in with some new ideas, so I’ll always want to try and improve.”
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