Leicester City's saddest story gets 'special' ending after three-year wait

Ricardo Pereira celebrates scoring for Leicester City against Watford
Ricardo Pereira celebrates scoring for Leicester City against Watford -Credit:Plumb Images/Leicester City FC via Getty Images

Leicester City are champions and Ricardo Pereira gets to say he’s played a major part in their success. It’s not just that he’s taken on a crucial role within Enzo Maresca’s set-up, playing at full-back without the ball but in midfield with it, but he’s also been fit to contribute for nearly the whole campaign.

Seeing Ricardo play such an integral role has been one of the highlights of the season, because his journey over the past three years has been one of City's saddest stories. The player of the season in his maiden campaign at the King Power Stadium, and one of the best full-backs in the Premier League if not Europe, Ricardo suffered an ACL tear in the final game before the Covid shutdown and has been battling injuries ever since.

Staying fit has been difficult. Since his return from knee surgery, Ricardo’s not only suffered a series of minor muscle issues, but he’s had big lay-offs too, most notably for an Achilles rupture in the final pre-season game of summer 2022. Just when he’s been looking back to his old self, he’s been struck down with a new problem.

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But finally, he’s been able to enjoy a full campaign. Ricardo made 45 appearances across all competitions this term, including 39 starts. He completed 90 minutes 32 times. In the previous three seasons combined, he was only able to play a full match on 22 occasions.

Reflecting on his own season, Ricardo said: “It's been really good. On the personal side, it was my biggest goal to be available as much as I could and play as much as I could. Even when things weren’t going very well, it was about doing the small things right, doing the things I can control well, and it’s paid off. Just a little bit late!

“(I didn’t change anything) from last season to this season but with the food, having a nutritionist, trying to do as much as I could in terms of recovery after training and after games, sleeping well. They are the sort of things I would do badly in the past, but it’s just ticking all of the boxes to be in a good way mentally, knowing I did everything I could to be in a better place.”

Without Ricardo, Maresca’s plan may not have worked so successfully. The 30-year-old needed to show the technical qualities to thrive in tight spaces in midfield and creative abilities when he pushed beyond Harry Winks to join the attack. But he needed to have the tactical know-how too so that he never left his full-back station too exposed. He did the job brilliantly.

Plus, he had to be a leader. When Jamie Vardy wasn’t on the pitch, Ricardo skippered the team. So when Vardy lifted the trophy on the final day, he called on the Portuguese, as well as Marc Albrighton, to do the honours with him.

The leadership role will likely become more important next season, when Ricardo will have to guide younger players through what may be their first campaign in the top flight as City look to right the wrongs of 2022-23 and avoid relegation.

“It was really special, especially after everything in the past,” Ricardo said of Vardy’s trophy gesture. “So it was really nice to be there, and then it was nice to leave those two together because they are true legends of the club, so they deserved to have their own time.

“I’m really happy to be where we deserve to be (in the Premier League). In terms of quality, it will go high, I know they (the young players) are aware of that. I’ll do my best to help them.

“In the Premier League, if you make one mistake and they have one chance, they are more clinical. But we have time to get used to it and I’m sure we’ll be fine.

“We know we have the quality but in football anything can happen. Sometimes the quality is not enough. We need to learn from that (relegation in 2023), try to do better and try not to make the same mistakes. It’s about knowing we have quality but needing to work hard.”

What did you make of Ricardo's performances this season? Let us know in the comments section below.