Muzzy Izzet

Former Player Remembers: Muzzy Izzet

Twenty-three years ago today (Monday), Leicester City signed Muzzy Izzet on a permanent basis from Chelsea, a move which enabled him to become a truly iconic figure at the Football Club.
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Earlier this season, Muzzy, who currently holds the record for the most Premier League appearances for City, spoke about playing in three League Cup finals in four years and winning the trophy twice, feats which led to two qualifications for the UEFA Cup.

Muzzy’s first final was in 1997 against Bryan Robson’s Middlesbrough, captained by Nigel Pearson. Sitting in one of the executive boxes at King Power Stadium, Muzzy began by explaining how the Club always looked forward to playing in the League Cup.

“Martin [O'Neill] always used to say that playing in the League Cup was an opportunity to go on a good cup run and that this would influence our league position as well,” Muzzy said.

“He felt that winning any game bred confidence. Cup games were always important to us. We always took them seriously. I suppose we were lucky because, especially under Martin, we were never really engaged in a relegation battle.

"We were always mid-table. Our position was quite secure. When we went on these cup runs, they gave us more confidence to finish higher up in the league.”

Having defeated Scarborough Town, York City, Manchester United and Ipswich Town across 1996/97, City were drawn against Premier league side Wimbledon in the two leg semi-final.

The first leg was a 0-0 draw at Filbert Street. Leicester went through to the final after drawing 1-1 at Selhurst Park after extra time, going through on the away goals rule.

My game at Wembley wasn’t one of my better performances. The Hillsborough game seemed more like a cup match. The atmosphere was incredible. It reminded me of when I used to go and watch my team, West Ham, play under the floodlights.

Muzzy Izzet

Muzzy recalled: “We knew that it was going to be a physical game. They had players like Vinny Jones, John Fashanu and Marcus Gayle. They were a physical side but so were we. We had some big lads in our team, like Matty [Elliott], Walshy [Steve Walsh] and [Emile] Heskey.

"That side of it never really bothered us. We knew we could go and battle out a result. We took a lot of away fans down there for the second leg. They were in the far corner. When Simon [Grayson] scored, and we held on at 1-1, you could see how much it meant to the fans.

"The atmosphere was great. It wasn’t the prettiest of games. It was cold. It was a mid-week game. It was just roll-your-sleeves-up time. We enjoyed those games.

“We were probably underdogs in the final. Middlesbrough had some world-class players like Juninho, [Fabrizio] Ravanelli and Emerson and they had already given us a thumping in the league. Juninho had torn us to shreds.

"That’s why we did the famous man-to-man marking on Juninho at Wembley with Pontus [Kaamark] marking Juninho. It worked well but we came close to losing it. Heskey scored in the last minute of extra time didn’t he? We had to go to the replay at Hillsborough.

“I thought I played better in the replay. My game at Wembley wasn’t one of my better performances. The Hillsborough game seemed more like a cup match. The atmosphere was incredible. It reminded me of when I used to go and watch my team, West Ham, play under the floodlights.

“When we won, walking through the fans to collect the trophy was brilliant. The occasion was different from Wembley. For Wembley you have got the build up, it’s a big occasion, you go away and prepare, and everything is slightly different from usual.

"When we went to Hillsborough, it felt like a normal Premier League game. I think we performed better. I know they had a few chances, but we did as well, and the best team won it.”

I didn’t know, until today that this was the only time that a Leicester City team won a national cup at Wembley! I will get a few more beers out of that!

Muzzy Izzet

Winning the League Cup qualified Leicester for the 1997/98 UEFA Cup, which was then a knock out competition. They were drawn against Atlético Madrid who won the tie 4-1 on aggregate, following some controversial decisions at Filbert Street which saw the referee being suspended from the UEFA list.

Two years later, Muzzy was back at Wembley for a League Cup final against Tottenham Hotspur. Tony Cottee scored all three of City’s goals against Sunderland in the two leg semi-final which Leicester won 3-2 on aggregate.

On the eve of the final, Martin O’Neill surprisingly dropped defender Frank Sinclair. Reflecting on this, Muzzy said: “We definitely missed Frank. I don’t think I played particularly well in that final either. It wasn’t a great game to watch or to play in.

"It didn’t flow. [Spurs full-back] Justin Edinbugh was sent off. That can be an added pressure on you as you are expected to beat 10 men. This can lead to a nervousness in a team of 11.

"You think that you can’t be beaten by 10 men and you play a little bit differently, with a little bit more fear, then you get sucker punched. That’s what happened. [Allan] Nielsen scored for them in the last couple of minutes.

"I have played in games when you sense the other team is going to score, when they weren’t even in the game and this was one of those occasions. I remember going back in to the changing rooms. We were all disappointed. It was a day to forget.

"We had now played in two cup finals and still hadn’t won at Wembley.”

In their very next game, City defeated Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane in a Premier League match.

Muzzy explained: “As we were doing our warm up, they played the goal that they scored against us at Wembley on the big screen at their ground. Whoever put that on the screens must be an idiot. If you really want to fire up another team, that’s what you do.

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Muzzy Izzet

Izzet remains a cult icon with the Club's supporters.

"I remember us doing our warm-up and seeing Nielson’s goal. We said, ‘come on lads, we need to sort this out!’ And we did. We won 2-0.”

The following season, Leicester were back at Wembley for their third League Cup final in four years. Their opponents this time were the second tier side Tranmere Rovers, managed by the Liverpool legend John Aldridge.

Thinking back, Muzzy said: “I didn’t know, until today that this was the only time that a Leicester City team won a national cup at Wembley! I will get a few more beers out of that!

“On the way to Wembley we had penalty shoot-outs against Leeds United and Fulham. I was injured for the Fulham game but I remember taking the final penalty against Leeds. Seven out of the 10 of the outfield players wanted to take a penalty.

"The art of taking a penalty is to say, ‘right. I know where it is going to go’. Don’t think of anything else. Don’t look at the 'keeper. Don’t bother about the crowd. Hit the ball as hard as you can into the area you have decided on.

"The moment you start thinking of other things as you walk up to take the penalty, there is a good chance that you are going to get distracted. I’ve heard players talking about running up to the ball and changing their mind on the run up which is a recipe for disaster.

"You should think, ‘right, it’s going to go bottom left. If he saves it, he saves it’. Nine times out of 10 you have more chance of scoring doing this. Every penalty I ever took I thought, ‘it’s going to go there... or there. I’m not going to change my mind’.

"Arnar Gunnlaugsson took the first. He was a very confident player who was technically good. He couldn’t half strike a ball! He didn’t play every week and he had only just come on.”

City beat Graham Taylor’s Aston Villa Villa in the semi-final with Matt Elliott scoring the only goal of the tie in the home leg following a 0-0 draw at Villa Park.

Muzzy remembered: “My first game back after injury was the semi-final against Villa. At that time, I was very fortunate with injuries. I’d get the odd niggle. I never had anything major. If I ever was out, it was for a couple of weeks maximum.

The fans could probably relate to us a lot more than to modern day footballers. We would be out having a laugh with fans with many people coming up to you.

Muzzy Izzet

"My body seemed to recover quite quickly. There was rivalry between the two teams. We always seemed to have their number. They were one of those teams we always felt we could get the better of. Spurs and Leeds were other teams like that.

"Before the Aston Villa semi-final Martin took us to Tenerife. We were supposed to go away to train, but we didn’t! It was a team bonding thing. Us being us, and because at the time the Club didn’t have a lot of money, we flew out at something like six in the morning.

"I don’t think Martin flew out with us on that flight. When we arrived, there was no curfew. The bars were always open. We’d go for a jog down to the beach in the morning. Martin liked to play cricket on the beach.

"Some of the lads were lounging on deckchairs and on the sand. After two or three days of this I remember thinking, ‘we’ve got a semi-final to win!’ To everyone else this was the worse thing you could do. To us, and to Martin, it was the best thing to do.”

City beat Tranmere Rovers 2-1 in the final with Elliott scoring both goals. Muzzy recollected: “This was the first time we were favourites to win the final. With that came a little bit more pressure. They had Dave Challinor who had a really long throw.

"I do remember him working on long throws as he felt we needed to be wary of these. Matty scored two that day with two headers from Steve Guppy’s corners. On that day I missed a sitter! One of my strengths was to be able to control a ball.

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Muzzy Izzet

Izzet remained at the Club to help them return to the Premier League.

"The ball came across to me when I was just outside the six-yard box. All I had to do was control it and just pass it into the back of the net. The ball came to me and, for a split second I thought, ‘I’m going to score here at Wembley!’

"But I miscontrolled it and the chance went. It was disappointing for me but winning at Wembley was wicked. Then it was party time. We got on the bus back to where we were going. We were drinking all the way. You can only act like this when you are doing it on the pitch.

"We weren’t blasé enough to do this if we were losing. However, we had played in three League Cup finals in four years. We were an established Premier League team, beating big teams even though having a small squad went against us sometimes.

"We had also qualified for the UEFA Cup again for the following season."

Muzzy, who clearly appreciated the fans’ support throughout his career, concluded: “The fans could probably relate to us a lot more than to modern day footballers. We would be out having a laugh with fans with many people coming up to you.

"Nowadays, players would be too worried about social media. It just doesn’t happen now. We also used to get fans down at the training ground watching us train on a regular basis. There were a lot of autograph hunters.

"There was none of this being secret about our training. I don’t understand it. I think sometimes, and it isn’t always their fault, modern players can’t quite connect with their fans because it has all changed.”

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