Leicester midfielder Danny Drinkwater reflects on roller-coaster year after title win
Last Updated: 06/05/17 11:22am
Soccer Saturday reporter Johnny Phillips meets Danny Drinkwater, who reflects on a roller-coaster season for himself and Leicester, 12 months after their Premier League title win.
A year ago this weekend we witnessed scenes that come along only once in a lifetime, if that often. There was the sight of Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli stood centre stage in a packed arena singing the aria from the last act of Puccini's opera Turandot.
The instantly recognisable and emotive Nessun Dorma ringing around the King Power Stadium to those fortunate fans present and the millions watching around the world as Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri stood next to his compatriot holding back tears as his team's Premier League triumph was celebrated.
No-one was ready for this, including the players who made that history. "I've not expected what's happened. Winning the league was way out of my reach but it has happened so you've got to learn to live with it haven't you?" says midfielder Danny Drinkwater.
Perhaps that has been why this season has been so different for Leicester. That staggering achievement was just too much to simply absorb, enjoy and then shelve to one side and start again only a few months later.
As much as the players were lauded for their achievements last season they have been pilloried in some quarters for the manner of their title defence, unfairly so. So has it all been a bit emotionally draining this time around?
"Yeah I'd say so, especially from the highs of last season," Drinkwater continues. "Everyone has felt the disappointments and the negatives this year. Turning that around to become a positive will definitely help us and make us stronger than we already are.
"It's not been easy, with Craig Shakespeare taking over and Claudio Ranieri being dismissed. But it seems to have helped, the team spirit has picked up again."
Shakespeare's side rattled off another league win - his sixth since taking charge at the end of February - last weekend and the 1-0 victory at his former club West Bromwich Albion has all but guaranteed Premier League survival. In fact, heads should be turned the other way. Never mind talk of a relegation battle, Leicester can finish as high as eighth in the table.
"If we can get eighth in the league and getting to where we did in the Champions' League, a lot of people would have been very happy with that, definitely," Drinkwater adds.
"It's been some kind of journey, we've surprised a lot of people. There have been plenty of ups and downs and it has been a tough season, it has felt like it has gone on forever. But as long as we can finish on a high I think that's massively important for the squad going into next season."
Shakespeare has done a good job to get the team going again, be it a back-to-basics approach or a bit of mental cajoling. Drinkwater thinks it's probably the latter. "It's not tactically, nothing has changed on that side. He's just picked people up again.
"He's been here six or seven years and knows us all well, he's a good man manager. He's been an assistant in the past so he's got an understanding of being a link between a player and a manager and he's not changed much."
Should he get the job on a full-time basis? "The squad will be more than happy with him, definitely."
Leicester head into the summer in good health but it's important they have a better break than last year. The players looked jaded when they lost on the opening day of the season at Hull City and never really recovered for the remainder of Ranieri's tenure. The close season transfer activity didn't pay dividends with N'Golo Kante sorely missed and replacements coming up short.
"Whatever happens in the summer I think next season is massively important for the club," Drinkwater says. "Personally I think we should be looking to get back into the Champions' League. I know that sounds difficult but we've had a taste for it now.
"You get a taste for it all - the music, the different styles of football, the whole package of Champions' League football is something you want to do again. You learn as you go along and put things into your own game, I can't see anyone being a worse off player for playing in the Champions' League."
Drinkwater is speaking ahead of the club's clash with Watford on Saturday and there is a photograph from a prior meeting between the sides that illustrates just how far the club and player have come.
It is of the Leicester substitutes' bench during that famous Championship play-off match between the two sides in May 2013 and behind manager Nigel Pearson sit Jamie Vardy, Harry Kane and Drinkwater.
He has made some great strides in the intervening four years. "That picture sums it up for everyone in it," Drinkwater, like the other two, went on to earn an England call-up. "That's something I never thought I'd achieve as well, but I did and I absolutely loved it."
He missed out on Euro 2016 and has not been able to prove his value to new manager Gareth Southgate after missing the autumn World Cup qualifiers with a thigh injury, which he has been managing all season.
But at 27, these can be Drinkwater's peak years. After leaving Manchester United without making a first team appearance, the midfielder didn't expect to be walking around with a Premier League title to his name and a handful of England caps in his grasp.
The challenge now, for the player and his club, is to recharge over the summer and put those remarkable achievements to one side.
"Personally it has been a season of ups and downs but I hope I'm coming good again. I just need to do more of what I was doing, working hard, and I'm sure it will come. I think every player needs a rest. You have dreams as a player but if they come true you have to start dreaming again don't you?"
Catch the full interview with Drinkwater on Soccer Saturday from 12pm where you can also stay up to date with the latest from Leicester v Watford from 3pm.