'Stick with us': New Leicester City manager Dean Smith asks for fans support ahead of crucial match

  • ITV News Central reporter Mark Kielesz-Levine sits down with new Leicester City manager, Dean Smith, to discus how he'll change the clubs fortunes.

"We need us all to stick together... because it can give you a man advantage over the opposition."

Dean Smith is very honest about needing the supporters to be that 12th man this weekend and for the remainder of the season. It may be a cliché but this is where Leicester City are right now.

If the Foxes lose this weekend against Wolves (who already look to be safe), then their Premier League future would be in serious doubt. 

When I sat down with Dean at the training base in Seagrave it's just over a week since he took on the role as interim manager and he's all smiles. He's seen effort, determination and passion from his players that convinces him that they can escape the drop. 

Of course, he's been in a similar situation before at Norwich. Just days after being sacked by Villa for five consecutive defeats, he was back in the hot seat in an attempt to keep Norwich up, who had been flirting between the Premier League and Championship. 

Although Dean was ultimately unsuccessful, he's been given the same brief here in the East Midlands but in much less time and he admits that his own reputation is on the line. 

"The squad I believe is so much better. Norwich before they had kicked a ball that season were favourites to be relegated, nobody would put Leicester as favourites to be relegated at the start of the season."

Whilst Dean is certainly right about that, the Foxes are now one of the favourites to go down. So why take the job with his reputation and that of the former Premier League Champions on the line?

Well he's a risk taker and Smith clearly believes there is potential in the squad not being fulfilled. Littered with internationals, what it lacks in depth it arguably makes up for in talent. When the likes of James Maddison, Harvey Barnes and Youri Tielemans are at their best, few can cope. The dismantling of Wolves, Villa, Forest and Spurs from earlier this season is testament to that- but inconsistency has been what has cost the Foxes. 

It's this that Dean Smith along with Craig Shakespeare and John Terry will be hoping to fix in the remaining games. The key to Dean being here is that Shakespeare and Terry also came too. The former has experienced Leicester at their very best- Premier League champions and the quarter finals of the Champions League.

Terry's honours as a player at Chelsea speak for themselves. With Terry's organisational and defensive knowledge and Shakespeare's own love of the club, Smith hope's he's got the right tools to keep the Foxes up.

He went on to tell me that he expected the mood to be worse when he came in, but was surprised at how buoyant players were- perhaps it was the new faces that gave them a lift. Smith said he also made a point to make training a bit more fun for the players at first, even if morale was better than he expected.

The first game and first half against Manchester City was tough, but he believes the second half performance showed that bounce and that players cared about the situation they are in. 

And it is such a different situation to last season. In May 2022 I was in Rome with Leicester fans watching them take on Jose Mourinho's side in the semi finals of the Europa Conference League. It really was an incredible night, despite the result. The Foxes finished 8th missing out on European football again and after finishing just outside the Champions League places the two seasons before, it's not hard to see why fans, staff and indeed player expectations are so high for this club. 

It's ultimately why this season has hurt the fans so much. 

The Premier League title, European football, the FA Cup- these are experiences that even some of the so called 'big 6' simply haven't had in many years. Yet this is all part of Leicester's recent history. Every club goes through tough times, but the real fear is that the Foxes will be the second former Premier League winner (after Blackburn) to be relegated. 

'Something's just got lost along the way somehow and my job is now to turn that around.'

With last season's comparable success, the question is, what has happened to the same players since? It was one I put to Dean, even though I appreciate he's just come in. 

Could he identify why things have gone so wrong? 

He said: "I don't know, I don't understand and I can only talk about what I'd seen. I've always been on the outside until I came here last Tuesday. From the inside, you can't question the facilities or the infrastructure, but also how hard the staff work. Something's just got lost along the way somehow and my job is now to turn that around."

He was just days into the job when in his opening press conference, he was asked a lot about Jack Grealish who was Villa skipper under him and comparisons to the talented James Maddison. But my question instead was about how reliant the club had been on Maddison for results or moments of brilliance. Had it been too much?

Again, Dean could only comment on what he's seen since he's been here, but emphasised it's a team game and everyone must play their part. However, the further up the pitch he is, the better for the squad. 

He said: "I haven't seen enough of the games to comment on it. What he is, is a player who can go and create. I think he's the second top scorer behind Harvey Barnes. So there's been a lot of pressure on him, but he is a player, and I said it in the press conference last week, who can give us that little bit of stardust that we need. But ultimately, it is a team game. We don't want James Maddison coming deep for the ball, we need to provide the ball to him in areas of the pitch where he can hurt the opposition."

It's obvious where Smith sees Maddison's strengths and I'd expect him to be a focal point in and around the box over the coming weeks. 

And these coming weeks are vital for the club and fans. When I asked what he thought the team needs points wise to stay up, the gaffer didn't want to commit past Wolves and perhaps that's best. This is the biggest game of the season so far. Win and the Foxes could be within touching distance of relegation rivals Leeds who they play Tuesday. Lose and that match could be an incredibly daunting one.

But here's where he hopes the fans will help. In a plea to them for all their support, he wants them fully behind the side home and away. In a message he again asked them to stick with the side, emphasising that he and the players care and will give it their all. 

For a person who believes his strength is being a risk taker, there's no bigger risk than trying to keep former champions in the self-styled best league in the world. And it would be quite the success story if Dean manages to turn things around at the King Power. 

The last time Leicester were in a similar position it survived and went on to win the Premier League the season after. So for a club that does the impossible, many will feel that survival this time around is still possible.