“He has been a big player for us coming into the team because what has allowed us to get our win rate up is our work rate. That is so important, how you press the game at the top end of the field, make it really difficult. That has been the foundation of our work. He epitomises all of that.”
Brendan Rodgers is discussing the impact of Marc Albrighton, scorer of Leicester’s first goal in their 2-0 win over Rennes on Thursday evening. It is a fifth win in six games since Albrighton came back into the team. As Rodgers suggests, that is no coincidence.
“I am glad you have said that,” Albrighton tells Sky Sports.
The man himself is too modest to make the connection but his presence is helping to turn things around. In the absence of senior players through injury, he has set the tone.
“With the squad at the moment, there are a lot of young players so the manager wants to integrate the younger ones in with the senior ones because you don’t want the team full of youngsters. So he wants a senior figure out there with a bit of experience.”
It is the first time that Albrighton, now 32, has started this many games consecutively since the winter of 2017. “I didn’t know that. It sounds a lot when you put it like that.” After years of rotation, he can sense the difference. “I feel like I am in a rhythm now.”
Leicester are finally finding their rhythm too. This has not been the season that they had hoped for after following up their FA Cup win in May with Community Shield victory in August. Injuries have undermined them. Dramatic defeats shattered confidence.
“The Spurs game, with the two late goals there, really hit us hard,” says Albrighton, referring to the game in January that Leicester contrived to lose despite leading in stoppage time. “The game that followed that against Brighton we conceded late again,” he adds.
“After that, it was backs to the wall and the same kept happening.”
Defending set-pieces became a huge problem. “You are going into games and half thinking about that sort of stuff and worrying about it too much.” The chatter began to have an impact. “There is always a lot of outside noise.” But the team stuck together.
“I think that was really important for us. If everyone starts going their own separate way it is not going to work. But everyone is on the same page and everyone wants the same thing. It is not until you get a couple of wins that your confidence improves.”
The relationship with Rodgers is strong.
“I know the manager has a lot of trust in me,” he says. “We have had plenty of conversations about that and how he is comfortable playing me in different positions.”
That has been a feature of Albrighton’s recent run in the side. Continuity of selection has not meant continuity of position. A title winger on the left wing, he has been used on the right, as well as plugging gaps in both full-back positions in the past month.
“The left-back one was a bit of a shock, to be honest. I was due to be playing right-back and then Luke Thomas felt his hamstring the day before.”
Was it tricky to adjust?
“There were a couple of little things positionally where your body is in the wrong angle, you are used to being on the right-hand side and now you are on the left,” he explains.
“I should have seen the writing on the wall, really. If I had a look at the players I played with at Villa they have all done that whether it is James Milner, Ashley Young or Stewart Downing. They have all had spells where they have gone to the full-back positions.”
For Albrighton, the problem solver, the model professional – “I am not one for the things surrounding football” – Milner, in particular, is a source of inspiration. “He was the first player I looked at and thought, ‘Wow, he is committed. He really works hard.’
“He was staying until god knows what time in the gym doing extras. He was the first in every morning just taking care of himself, really putting everything into it. It was not just turn up, train and go home. James Milner was the first person I had really seen do that.”
It was not always that way for the young Albrighton. “My routine now is a million miles away from when I was younger,” he admits. But now he is the one setting the example, taking advantage of the first-class facilities at Leicester’s new training ground.
“In the morning I will be stretching and making sure I am getting in the right preparation for training because ultimately training now is a lot harder than it was when I started. Training replicates the game so you need to make sure you are ready to perform at the top.
“I am doing a lot more work in the gym. We also have the swimming pool and the facilities here to help us recover. All of that is key, but it is enjoyable. I just want to keep doing what I am doing, come in every day and play football. It is all I have ever known.”
Some can find it jarring when footballers referred to playing this game as a job but when Albrighton talks in those terms it is disarmingly humble.
“I have mates who have got jobs where they have to get up early in the morning and earn a living that way. This is my way of earning a living. This is my way of looking after my family. This is what I have worked hard for since I was six years old.”
It has brought rewards for a player who still, after everything, is underrated. He is the only English player this century to win a Premier League title, play in an FA Cup win, and yet never to be capped by his country. With Leicester now favourites to win the Europa Conference League, he might not be done yet.
“I never would have thought we would go on and win what we have. I think that is down to hard work and when you do win things it proves that the hard work is paying off and it will come at some point. It just encourages you to work harder and carrying on working.
“Who knows what is around the corner?”
Until then, Rodgers knows who he can count on. “We have talented young players who just want a bit of guidance,” says Albrighton.
There is nobody better to be guiding them.