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Why Walsh is Key Figure Behind Leicester's Rapid Rise

Published: 12th December 2015 07:47 AM  |   Last Updated: 12th December 2015 07:47 AM   |  A+A-

Leicester City's remarkable success this season will be placed into even sharper context on Monday, when they face Chelsea, with Claudio Ranieri set to name a starting XI who cost less than Diego Costa.

Ranieri is expected to start with the team who beat Swansea so comprehensively last weekend, a confident and energetic group of players assembled for less than pounds 22?million and riding high at the top of the Premier League.

From record-breaking Jamie Vardy to the bargain of the decade, Riyad Mahrez, and now the diminutive destroyer N'Golo Kante, Leicester are emphatic proof that shrewd scouting and recruitment remains vital, even in this era of vast wealth.

While Ranieri has spectacularly rebuilt his reputation, and will face his former club Chelsea 17 points better off, much of Leicester's achievements must be attributed to Steve Walsh, their highly regarded head of recruitment.

It was no surprise that Walsh was retained at the King Power Stadium this summer, despite the departure of manager and close friend Nigel Pearson, while it is also no shock that he has recently been linked to Arsenal.

Walsh's fingerprints are on the majority of this resurgent squad, who have gone from relegation escapologists to being backed for the title by none other than Sir Alex Ferguson. Those foundations have not gone unnoticed by Ranieri, as Leicester prepare to face last season's champions - one of only two teams to beat them since April.

"Me and the team is the pinnacle of the iceberg but behind that is very good staff," beams Ranieri. "When I came here I was told we had impressive staff and it is true. The recruitment is fantastic.

"I work very well with Steve. He's very important, when we look at football we share the same ideas. There is a very good relationship between me and him. We are a team that is growing up. I am enjoying this a lot, to be top of the league. I watch how the players  try to do what I want and that is fantastic for a manager."

Walsh has previous with Monday's opponents, having spent 16 years working there as a scout under a succession of managers, including Jose Mourinho. A former teacher who never played league football, he later worked under Sam Allardyce at Newcastle and Pearson at Leicester [in two separate spells] and Hull City.

His scouting missions to find the likes of Vardy and Mahrez have been etched into Leicester's recent history, but there have been other unpolished gems to arrive from across England and Europe.

Danny Drinkwater, schooled at Manchester United, was one of the first signings when Walsh returned to Leicester for his second spell, and is now being talked about as a potential England contender.

Robert Huth could not get into the Stoke City team last season, but proved a colossus in Leicester's scramble to safety, while there is also a feeling of satisfaction behind the scenes over the recent emergence of Christian Fuchs, a vastly experienced Austria international who arrived this summer on a free transfer.

It has not all been bargain buys, with pounds 8?million spent on record signing Leonardo Ulloa, but it is undoubtedly the pounds 5.5?million capture of Kante that has highlighted the work of Walsh and his network of scouts and analysts.

Signed from Ligue 1 club Caen, the defensive midfielder had the best statistics for ball recovery in Europe last season - which makes it all the more bewildering that other clubs failed to spot him.

Ranieri takes up the story. "When I arrived here, he [Walsh] pushed me and then in July he said, 'Kante, Claudio, Kante'. He was determined to sign him more than I was - but Kante has been fantastic for us. Can he be one of the best midfielders in Europe? Yes, he can achieve this target."

Leicester are unlikely to tinker too heavily in the January transfer window, despite Ferguson admitting that a few more additions could prove the difference in their unlikely bid to lift the title.

But while Walsh admits modern-day scouting is becoming more difficult, because of the vast amount of money clubs are investing to find another Vardy, he is always confident of unearthing the next one.

"There are a few players out there who don't play for us who  I believe in. If an opportunity comes along to bring a player for a position the manager wants, then I am halfway there with it because I am convinced he will be good for us," he said.

"When you do find that diamond, that nugget, it does give you that buzz. That is partly why you do the job. It gives you job satisfaction because everyone wants to do a job they feel is worthwhile and are good at."

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