During this international break, Matt Davis from the Trust caught up with Rob Tanner to find out more about his thoughts on Leicester City and what he is doing nowadays.
At the start of the season how did you honestly expect Leicester to do?
I thought they would do well, but I didn’t think they would start this well. There had been no hiding the ambition. Top six and European qualification was the target. Rodgers had said so last season and the club stated it in the last financial report, but now they look like a Champions League challenging side.
There was a sense of the unknown about Leicester this season. Rodgers had a few months to assess his squad last season but we weren’t quite sure how they would line-up this campaign. There was also the question of how big a loss Harry Maguire would be, especially after they walked away from trying to sign James Tarkowski just before the deadline.
However, the football that have played has been wonderful to watch. City’s start, tailored with some of the Big Six having their own issues, gives me confidence they can sustain this challenge all season.
Why do you think we've had such a good start to the season?
They are well organised. Each player knows what is expected from them both in and out of possession. Rodgers has his philosophy of how he wants to play and he ensures the players understand what is expected of them. It is an effective, intense style of play and while other clubs are still struggling to find their own identity and style of play, most notably Arsenal, City seem to understand who they are and what they are good at. That gives them confidence when they go out to play. Doubt is removed from their minds. They have bought into Rodgers’ way and believe in it.
Who in your view has excelled and why?
There are so many who have excelled. The entire starting 11 have done superbly well, but you would have to pick out Caglar Soyuncu. There were question marks about him stepping in for Maguire but he has been fantastic. Credit to Jonny Evans too for helping him settle straight into that back four. Wilfred Ndidi has been fantastic at screening that back four and his tackle stats are phenomenal, while James Maddison and Youri Tielemans have provided midfield guile. Of course, as ever, Jamie Vardy is the main man and talisman. Twenty goals in just 22 league games under Rodgers is an incredible goal ratio.
What do you think to the buys this season?
Signing Youri Tielemans was important and I am glad they got that deal done. The fee is actually around £32 million, so less than was originally thought too, although there will be bonuses depending on performance. Ayoze Perez has taken time to settle I after his move from Newcastle but if he can replicate the form he showed at Southampton regularly he will be a real asset too. Sometimes it just takes a while for new signings to gel into this squad and get to know Rodgers’ system.
I really like Dennis Praet. He looks ready-made for English football. He is an all-rounder. He is good on the ball but is physically strong too.
We haven’t seen much of James Justin yet because of the form of Ricardo, but from what I have seen he looks a good player and is versatile. His time will come. Overall, I have been impressed with the transfer business. It was the best window for quite some time.
Where do you think we need to further strengthen if at all?
We need to prepare for when Wes Morgan finishes by bringing in another centre back. Filip Benkovic has struggled for fitness in the early part of the season and I would be concerned if there were injuries or suspensions for Evans and Soyuncu. Also, we need more goals from the front three, so that might be an area Rodgers looks at possibly in January but certainly next summer.
How do you think this squad compares to the 15/16 squad?
In terms of the whole squad, there is more strength in depth with this squad than the title-winning one, and while I would argue individually there may be more attacking talent in the current crop, that team of 2015-16 were so effective and very consistent. They are legends. They had their counter attacking style and had two amazing match winners in Mahrez and Vardy that season. Time will tell if this generation can achieve something special too.
Where do you think we'll finish this season?
Judging by what I have seen this season so far, and not just from Leicester, I believe a top four place is realistic and achievable. I would love to go on another European Tour.
What is Brendan Rogers best strengths?
Communication, which was arguably Puel’s biggest weakness. Rodgers is brilliant at making everyone feel part of what he is trying to achieve. His first step was to get the senior players on side, like Vardy, Morgan and Fuchs, and he spends a lot of time talking individually to his players. His door is always open for a chat.
He has done the same with the media. At the first press conference he decided the written media would sit down with him in the players’ lounge around a table and talk on and off the record, rather than in a formal setting. The writers loved that and he still does that today.
What's your proudest moment in your journalism career?
Following Leicester’s greatest achievement, the 2016 title win and the subsequent European tour, were amazing and I am very proud of the book I wrote on that season, 5000-1.
Also, right at the start of my career, when I was a news journalist on my hometown newspaper, the Tamworth Herald, I interviewed an old miner about the history of the industry in the area, but he also told me a story about a Tamworth war hero whose actions helped shorten the war. Colin Grazier died while rescuing enigma code books from a stricken u-boat, which were used to secretly decode the enigma machines. His sacrifice was hidden by the official secrets act for decades, initially because they didn’t want the Germans to know they could crack the codes. As a result he never really got the recognition he deserved. I wrote the story and my deputy editor launched a campaign which resulted in a huge memorial being erected in the main square in the town centre. I feel great pride whenever I walk through town now and see it because it all began with that article.
What is your funniest LCFC moment whilst working for the Leicester Mercury?
There were always some pranks going on when we used to do media down the training ground. I have had Craig Shakespeare deliberately call me phone while I was interviewing players, to see if I had switched it off, and when I turn around he has been laughing, watching through the window at me getting flustered with Macca and other members of staff. I have also had tennis balls thrown at me by Paul Gallagher while interviewing and there was also the funny sight of Richie Wellens pinching Macca’s van and driving it away while Macca was trying to load it up.
Who is your dream LCFC player to interview?
In terms of dream, as in which player I would love to interview as a Leicester player, it would be Lionel Messi, and I was in the Mix Zone after the game in Stockholm, but he wasn’t giving interviews. He was more concerned with getting Vardy’s shirt.
In terms of Leicester players who I have interviewed, there have been some good ones over the years. I always liked David Nugent, because he was a good talker and comical, and he would speak his mind too. Christian Fuchs is entertaining and very friendly. So was Gallagher and Wellens, but the one I speak too the most and get on with the best has to be my fellow Tammie, Marc Albrighton.
I would love to interview Marcin Wasilewski though. I never did in all the time he was at the club. He wouldn’t do them. That has become a mission now.
Who was the easiest LCFC manager to interview?
I had a baptism of fire with Nigel, but over time, as he came to trust me better, he was interesting to interview because he liked to be challenged by questions. If you asked him stock questions he would give you stock answers. If you asked him tougher questions you would get better answers, depending on his mood. Ranieri was the most entertaining in terms of his responses, but Craig Shakespeare was the warmest and friendliest, until Brendan Rodgers. He is very good as he remembers people’s names and uses them when he responds. That may not sound like a big thing, but I see that as showing respect to the journalists. So far it has been a pleasure to talk to Brendan.
About your recent transfer:
Firstly when did you move to the Mercury and why?
I was working for the Birmingham Post and Mail, but I wasn’t really a number one writer for any of the clubs. I would be asked to cover West Bromwich Albion, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Walsall mainly, as the two big clubs, Blues and Aston Villa, were taken by more senior writers. I had an interview for another position at the Mercury a while before, but the position was pulled. Then, out of the blue, Chris Goddard, the former Sports Editor, called me as they were looking for Bill Anderson’s replacement. It was a chance to be a number one writer on a club. I went in and had a two hour meeting with the Editor, Keith Perch, but we didn’t really talk about the job, just football. They gave me the job and I started covering City at the beginning of their first campaign back in the Championship ten years ago. It has been an astonishing ride ever since. I have had so many special experiences and I cherish some wonderful memories.
Where are you working now and can you tell me a bit more about the organisation?
I was approached in the summer to join The Athletic. After ten years at the Mercury I was ready for a new challenge. The local newspaper industry is changing and I wasn’t happy with some of the work I was asked to do, and I was looking at other opportunities when this came along. I am still covering Leicester, which I love, but in a very different way now.
The Athletic began in the USA. It is a sports website and app that focuses on in-depth feature writing and after a successful first few years in the States they have come to the Premier League and recruited some really good writers, such as Oli Kay, Dan Taylor, David Ornstein and Stuart James. They targeted the club writers on local papers covering the Premier League clubs, and that is my brief with Leicester.
What is the business model for the Athletic based on and why?
It is a subscription service. It is the first time in my career I haven’t been involved in a newspaper. The current subscription discount means it can cost as little as £2.50 per month and for that you get access to all the football features and American sports produced by all the writers.
The original idea was to invest in quality journalism, which has been in decline for some years now, and promote the art of sports writing, but it is not a direct threat to newspapers, many of which still contain some wonderful writing. It just offers something different.
How does your role differ now compared to the Mercury?
The big difference is time. Whereas at the Mercury I would probably produce up to six short stories a day, based around what has been said in press conferences and after games, now I produce three to four in-depth articles per week. I have time to research my stories and speak to as many people in the game as possible so my articles can be in-depth. For example, I was given the chance to travel to New York and visit Christian Fuchs’ sports complex in Warwick, which used to be a prison. It still looks like a prison in many respects, but Christian and his wife Raluca have big plans for the place. I was able to sit and watch a game with them. That wouldn’t have been possible at the Mercury.
Everything I write has to be different than you can read elsewhere. I don’t do match reports or quote pieces from press conferences, because you can read that everywhere else, so I have to think of an angle for a game. For example, at Luton I watched the game with James Justin’s dad. I hit the jackpot as James scored his first goal for the club that night.
If supporters want to subscribe how do they go about it?
Visit the website: theathletic.com, or download the app. Look out for special offer tweets from our writers which contain codes for discounted subscriptions.
Why should supporters subscribe?
I used to get feedback that fans were fed up of clickbait headlines, pop up ads and videos. The Athletic is advert free and easy to read. It is pure sports writing without distractions, and we have a great team of writers producing a wide variety of content. It is worth checking out with a free trial.