One-time reject Morgan is chasing another fairy tale
Leicester defender beat the odds to win a Premier League title and now his target is Wembley glory
Wes Morgan can still remember the desolation of rejection by Notts County at the age of 15. His dream of being a professional footballer apparently in ruins, he went back to college and a business studies degree.
But as Leicester’s captain prepares to face Chelsea in today’s FA Cup quarter-final, his career is testament to the powers of perseverance. He had a leading role in Claudio Ranieri’s fairy tale by winning the Premier League title, played in a Champions League quarter-final – after Leicester did what Manchester United could not, beating Sevilla in the round of 16 – and is now closing in on 700 career appearances.
“I often speak to young kids trying to make their way into the professional game and tell my story,” he says. “It’s a story that tells you never to give up.
“Young lads can be low on confidence, unsure how things are going to work out, but you have to keep going to follow your dreams. I never thought I’d be in the Premier League when I was released by Notts County. They only offered two YTS contracts and I was the odd one out. That was it, I thought, semi-pro would be the best I could get. I was playing for a load of teams with my mates on Saturdays and Sundays, a young lad playing in an adults’ league. Fortunately, I got the opportunity to have trials at Nottingham Forest and that’s where it all began.
“Now I’m sitting here as a Premier League winner. That’s a magnificent achievement, considering where I came from. I don’t think I’ll truly digest it all until I finish my career.”
His rags-to-riches tale has been less documented than those of team-mates such as Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez. Morgan moved to Leicester from Forest in 2012 for just £1 million after a contract wrangle. The next six years have been what the centre-half calls “a rollercoaster”. Even now, Morgan struggles to escape the memories of May 2016, when he lifted the top-flight trophy.
“I was out shopping in Birmingham a few weeks ago and there was a Leicester fan talking to me about how we won the league, the trophy bus parade going past her house and everything else. It feels surreal, even though it seems so long ago,” he says.
“The Champions League was also an unbelievable time. To reach the quarter-finals was an achievement I don’t think we got enough credit for. We were newcomers and we did it our way. We took Atletico Madrid to the wire. I’ve had amazing times since I came to Leicester, beyond my wildest dreams. But football is always moving and you can’t stand still or be dwelling on the past. The time to look back and remember the special moments is when there are no interruptions.”
Morgan has a special reason to ensure Claude Puel’s Leicester can complete a miserable week for Chelsea and Antonio Conte, whose European excursions were ended by Barcelona.
The FA Cup is one competition in which Morgan has had frustration, never going beyond the last eight.
“I would say it’s the last box to be ticked for me,” he says. “Everyone knows the history and prestige. Being an FA Cup winner would be second to winning the league. I’m not getting any younger so there’s not too many years left for me to do something in this competition. I’m 34, I have a year left [on my contract] and I’m definitely feeling the aches and pains. This could be my last big chance.”
There will also be an element of revenge for Morgan at the King Power Stadium today as it was against Chelsea that his FA Cup dream ended in 2012. Fernando Torres ended a 24-game goal drought with a double as a Chelsea team including the likes of Petr Cech, Juan Mata and Daniel Sturridge coasted to a 5-2 victory.
“That was a real down point, but this is definitely the biggest tie of the round and a huge chance for us to reach a semi-final at Wembley.
“Chelsea have not done as well as they expected this season, they are out of the Champions League, so they will probably see the FA Cup as something to make their season positive. I haven’t experienced a semi-final before but there is a good chance now. It would definitely keep the fairy tale going…”
‘County offered two YTS contracts and I was odd one out. That was it, I thought’
Frustrated: The FA Cup has proved to be an unlucky competition for Wes Morgan but the defender thinks this could be Leicester’s year