Wes Morgan’s rise to glory is a well-deserved Leicester and CONCACAF success story

Photo credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Photo credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

With Leicester City’s title hopes squarely on the line Sunday, the Foxes captain Wes Morgan rose to the occasion, thumping a header past Southampton keeper Fraser Forster. Morgan’s goal sent Leicester seven points clear atop the Premier League a year to the day the club sat buried seven points from safety at the bottom of the table. It was Morgan’s leadership that helped Leicester author a “great escape” last season. And that was followed up by the defender helping to lead Jamaica to the CONCACAF Gold Cup Final over the summer.

Morgan’s goal at the King Power Stadium on Sunday came just days after playing two matches in the heat and humidity of the Caribbean and Central America, representing Jamaica in CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying. For most players, this would be an extraordinary week. But for Wes Morgan, it was just another routine in a 12 months that has been nothing short of astonishing for the 32-year-old.

Few players have logged as many airline miles or played as many minutes in the last twelve as Morgan, who has had no break whatsoever from soccer. Morgan has played every minute of the Foxes 2015-16 Premier League campaign proudly wearing the armband after a summer playing consistently for Jamaica in two major tournaments.

Jamaica participated in both the Copa America tournament in Chile and the CONCACAF Gold Cup in the United States last summer. While the Reggae Boyz went a predictable three and out in the Copa, they advanced all the way to the Gold Cup final, stunning the host United States in the semifinals. Just thirteen days after losing to Mexico in the final, Morgan was captaining Leicester City in the Premier League opener against Sunderland. Having been integrated right into the team without a preseason despite the presence of a new manager at Leicester, Claudio Ranieri speaks volumes to the type of presence Morgan has on and off the pitch.

Morgan is an especially unlikely hero for Leicester City. A native of the East Midlands, the defender grew up first in Notts County’s system and then became a mainstay for Nottingham Forest, the great rival of Leicester City. The Forest that Morgan signed with at age 18 wasn’t the same great club Brian Clough had steered to European and domestic success, and by the time the defender became a first team regular, the club was toiling in the third flight of English soccer.

At Forest, Morgan matured into a reliable center back for the lower division level. He emerged as a mainstay at the club with the two-time European champions languishing in the third flight of English soccer for the 2006-07 season. But even with his fine play with Forest, which continued once the club was promoted to the Championship, Morgan was well off the radar of most clubs and toiled in the relative obscurity Forest found itself in during what would generally be considered the prime of his career.

Forest sold Morgan to local-rival Leicester in January 2012 after nearly a decade with the club. Morgan, by this time 28 years-old, quickly impressed for the Foxes and became the club captain the following season. Leicester, whose Thai ownership had big ambitions for the club, had initially spent big on players after the 2010 takeover but eventually settled into bargain buys based on smarter scouting. Morgan’s acquisition fits the pattern of well-thought out less-expensive buys by the club — a list that now includes Riyad Mahrez, N’Golo Kante, Robert Huth and, of course, Jamie Vardy. These five players have represented the core of the side that has surged to the top of the Premier League.

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Morgan is of Jamaican heritage allowing the Caribbean nation to call him up to the national team at age 29 for his first cap in September 2013. Since then, Morgan has become a mainstay for Jamaica, playing in World Cup qualifying and major international tournaments. Having played 25 times for Jamaica in the last two and half years in addition to playing virtually every league minute since Leicester was promoted, this is absolutely startling.

Now 32, Morgan continues to jet around the world, playing virtually every minute for club and country, captaining the Foxes toward a first ever top-flight title in club’s history. In retrospect, the years of fighting to get Forest and then Leicester promoted from the Championship to the Premier League have made Morgan an incredibly fit and disciplined player.

The Jamaican international is rarely if ever in the wrong position. It’s obvious now in retrospect that Morgan could have played for England in this summer’s European Championships. Such was the theory of Harry Redknapp commenting the other day on television before it was pointed out that Morgan two and half years ago had finally accepted a Jamaica cap.

Playing long dramatic seasons in the lower divisions has kept Morgan fit for international duty. And at age 32, it seems he is having the year of his career – or just about any footballer’s career.

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