Premier League Career: Aston Villa (2009-2014), Leicester City (2014-PRESENT)
Leicester City’s incredible Premier League title triumph in 2015-2016 saw plenty of heroes. Whilst the likes of Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and N’Golo Kante stole most of the headlines, there were plenty of unsung players who played such a vital part in the greatest story ever played out in Premier League history.
One of those unsung heroes was Marc Albrighton. The Tamworth-born player figured in every single match that campaign and put in the best performances of a career which has flourished in the colours of the Foxes’ after a frustrating end to his time with Aston Villa. He is also in the Premier League record books for scoring the 20,000th goal in the league’s proud history, achieving this feat against Arsenal in December 2011.
Albrighton could have actually started his career out at West Bromwich Albion, who offered him a trial but ultimately rejected him. Aston Villa took him into their academy at the age of just eight and he would spend the next 17 years within their surroundings. His Premier League breakthrough came in 2009. After featuring prominently in pre-season, he made his debut in the top-flight on the opening weekend at home to Wigan Athletic. Wigan might have won the match 2-0 but this was a proud moment for Albrighton when he came on as a substitute in the second half. A month later, he extended his contract at Villa Park by three years and Martin O’Neill admitted he was impressed by his rapid rate of development.
O’Neill left abruptly before the start of the 2010-2011 campaign but reserve team coach Kevin McDonald had every confidence in Albrighton’s abilities and handed him his first start in the Premier League for the opening day match against West Ham United. Villa won 3-0 and Albrighton caught the eye, setting up two of the goals. His first goal at this level came in a 2-1 loss at Tottenham Hotspur two months later and he also found the target with a clinical finish at home to Manchester United when the home side produced one of the best counter-attacking moves of the season.
He returned impressive figures of five goals in 29 appearances in 2010-2011 and would make Premier League history the following season. In December 2011, he scored the equaliser at home to Arsenal and therefore, scored the league’s 20,000th goal. Albrighton won a £20,000 cheque from the league’s sponsors, Barclays which he donated to his chosen charity, the Acorns Children Hospice.
Although Arsenal did end up winning the match 2-1, Albrighton knew the significance of his strike. He told talkSPORT: “It’s something to tell the kids and the grandkids. It is a massive thing; the Premier League is one of the greatest leagues in the world, if not the greatest, so to score the 20,000th goal is definitely special to me.”
Unfortunately, his form started to fade at Villa and a throat operation in the early weeks of the 2013-2014 campaign didn’t help matters. He had a brief one-month loan at Wigan Athletic to help regain match fitness. After returning, he figured 19 times so it was a surprise that the club decided to release him at the end of the season. Leicester City wasted no time in snapping him up from their Midlands rivals.
Initially, he looked like a spare part at Leicester too and struggled to break into the starting XI on a regular basis. That changed nearer the end of the season when manager Nigel Pearson started to integrate wing-backs into his formation. Albrighton was used frequently in this position and he scored twice towards the backend of the campaign as Leicester rallied from bottom of the table at the start of April and seven points adrift of safety to finish 14th, winning seven of their last nine matches.
Pearson was sacked by the club’s owners in the summer and in came Claudio Ranieri. This could have put another stumbling block in Albrighton’s career in a summer where he was hit by a personal tragedy. His partner, Chloe Fulford suffered the terrible loss of her mother in the terrorist attacks in Tunisia in June 2015. This was a dreadful shock to the entire family and was a reminder that football was a secondary matter. It did seem to inspire Marc onto even greater levels of performance and he scored on the opening weekend in the 4-2 win over Sunderland. He pointed straight to the sky in his celebration. It was clear who he dedicated that goal to.
In 2015-2016, Albrighton was part of a regular four-man midfield alongside the energy of Kante, the world-class talents of Mahrez and the revival in the form of Danny Drinkwater. Ranieri later said: “He is a great worker who embodies the spirit of Leicester.”
Even when he was scarified from the start of the game at home to Swansea to combat with a Vardy suspension, Albrighton came on and made a big impact, scoring the fourth goal in a 4-0 victory which took Leicester closer to Premier League paradise. He became a title-winner a week later after Tottenham failed to beat outgoing champions Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Albrighton richly deserved his place in the realms of Premier League winners.
There was more personal success for Marc in 2016-2017. He scored Leicester City’s first-ever goal in the UEFA Champions League, scoring inside six minutes of their Matchday 1 3-0 win away in Belgium over Club Brugge. He later scored in the round-of-16 home leg over Sevilla as Leicester reached the quarter-finals in their maiden Champions League adventure. League form did dip though and reports emerged that Albrighton was one of the main figures to meet the Leicester owner after the first-leg defeat to the Spanish side which ultimately led to Ranieri’s shock sacking as manager.
Albrighton was furious and upset. He put out a strong statement, denying his involvement in Ranieri’s downfall. Part of it read: “At the worst time of my family’s life, the manager helped me achieve something I didn’t think in my wildest dreams would be possible. It helped us to be positive about something when everything was negative.
“The first day I met the manager he told me he believed in me; before the last game of his LCFC reign, he told me the same.
“I will never be truly able to thank him for everything he has helped me achieve and the faith he has shown in me and he knows that I always did my best for him.”
Albrighton has rediscovered his title-winning season form in 2017-2018. He set-up two goals on the opening night in a narrow 4-3 loss to Arsenal and has scored for new manager Claude Puel in positive results against West Ham United and Huddersfield Town.
Marc Albrighton has had to work hard for his success. He had to endure some tricky challenges and always come out of them as a tougher person for these experiences. No-one should forget his role in the 2015-2016 Leicester City fairytale and still only 28, he has plenty more football ahead of him.