Leicester City need Claudio Ranieri to maintain the fun-factor in the squad and keep the pressure off in their Premier League title bid, according to striker Emile Heskey.
The league leaders need three wins from their final five matches to guarantee the title and complete the most unlikely of comeback stories for a side who narrowly escaped relegation last season.
Much of Leicester’s incredible form has been credited to the strength of the team spirit fostered by Ranieri, who has dismissed the idea that pressure is mounting on his players by stressing that they are enjoying their football.
Heskey, who won two League Cups with Leicester after emerging through the youth ranks, believes such an attitude has been vital to their sustained form throughout an extraordinary campaign.
“I wouldn’t know the pressure of being top of the league!” he told Omnisport. “But it comes back to the manager – how does he cope with that? How does he downplay that and keep the fun within the group that keeps their mind off the fact that they’re top?
“He’s got to take as much pressure off as possible so you can go out and play. Everyone knows you play your best when you’re enjoying games. So that’s what Leicester City look like – a team that’s enjoying their football.
“The confidence was high at the end of last season, but he’s built on that and allowed them to express themselves. They play really good football when they’re on it.
“It’s something phenomenal. They go into games now believing that they’ve won it before they’ve even started.
“We’re used to the Tigers winning this and that [in rugby]. When I was there it was occasionally winning cups, but to win the league is phenomenal for the whole city.
“We got to three cup finals and won two of them. We knew what we were capable of doing in the cups, but we never dreamt of winning the league.
“To see this side going from strength to strength each week is phenomenal. I don’t think you can compare the teams, but, camaraderie-wise, we do probably have similarities.”
Heskey does not believe Leicester will slip up in the title race at this late stage and identified defender Robert Huth’s performances as proof of their underlying determination.
“I can’t see it,” he replied when asked if Leicester could at last suffer a blip. “I’ve been looking to see where that setback would come and they’ve pulled through it. The big teams know how to win ugly and Leicester have taken that ethos on now. They’re winning games 1-0 that arguably they shouldn’t be winning.
“It goes through the whole spine of the time. The player who probably typifies them is Huth – a real solid player, die hard, gives everything, but that goes through the whole spine. The goalkeeper [Kasper Schmeichel], Wes [Morgan], [Danny] Drinkwater, [N’Golo] Kante, [Riyad] Mahrez, [Jamie] Vardy – it’s very, very solid, but there are capable players in the whole squad.”
The 38-year-old believes it will be important for Leicester to avoid losing too many of their key players during the next transfer window if they are to build on this season, but he has urged them to embrace the chance to play in the Champions League.
“You’ve got to take a step at the time. I don’t think it’s a one-off, as in they won’t fall out of the league. They’re taking gradual steps,” he added.
“You don’t want two or three leaving at the same time. One, you could probably find one to bring in, but you need to keep that core structure safe.
“They’ll have Champions League football, so it’s going to be more games. You’ve seen teams whose league form suffers, but hopefully they won’t fall into that trap.
“It’ll be great for them. They need to cherish every minute. It’s a wonderful occasion, not only for the players, but the fans.”
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