In the world of the beautiful game, transfers can often come as a bit of a surprise. One move that raised a few eyebrows in the footballing community was Kasper Schmeichel’s switch from Leicester City to OGC Nice in the summer of 2022. Before the deal, the Danish shot-stopper was enjoying his 11th year with the Foxes and was still their number one choice between the sticks. There was no strong indication the situation was going to change either but then credible rumours emerged that Nice were seriously looking into swooping in for the then 35-year-old.
Fairly shortly after, a £1m plus add-ons fee was agreed and personal terms were signed, allowing Schmeichel to jet off to the French south coast. With this not being particularly expected beforehand, Leicester fans did not get the chance to give their loyal servant a fitting send-off. The club did at least give him a very warm write-up on their official website, where, among other things, they called him one of Leicester City’s all-time greats.
End of an Era
Throughout his time at Leicester City, Schmeichel demonstrated tremendous loyalty and leadership. He wasn’t just a top-class goalkeeper; he was also a passionate and vocal presence on and off the pitch. His leadership qualities were particularly evident during the 2016/17 season when the team faced a turbulent period after their title triumph. Schmeichel’s composure and guidance helped steady the ship, and Leicester successfully managed to avoid relegation. For this, he was credited with both the Supporters’ Player of the Season Award and the Players’ Player of the Season Award.
Upon his departure from the East Midlands, Schmeichel had registered 479 competitive appearances for the Foxes and helped guide them to a Championship title in 2014, Premier League title in 2016 and FA Cup in 2021. Only three other players (Adam Black, Josh Marshall and the one and only Jamie Vardy) have appeared more times in the Foxes than the Dane. All good things must come to an end, but Schmeichel will be warmly welcomed back at the King Power Stadium at any time. You will struggle to find any Leicester fan who harbours any hard feelings whatsoever over his transfer to Nice.
Just How Unexpected Was the Transfer?
For any non-Leicester supporting football fan, this was a deal that seemingly came out of the blue. Leicester had just finished eighth in the Premier League, with the Dane playing in all but one of the fixtures. Additionally, it is not as though the Foxes had signed, or were reportedly seeking, a new number one goalkeeper. From what any outside fan could gather, Schmeichel’s place was under no threat and most would have expected him as a regular on the Leicester team sheet the following season.
For Leicester fans though, this move was less of a shock in many ways. There was not much build-up to any sort of deal in the summer of 2022, which gave it some element of shock, but there had been warning signs earlier on. For one, Schmeichel had commented months prior that it “gnaws” on him that he had not enjoyed more Champions League football. Additionally, he said, “It is a complex situation but before I stop, I must also try to play somewhere else.”
Although there was no time frame given, he was 35 years old by the end of the 2021/22 season, so he could not afford to wait too long to play somewhere else. He did have one year left on his contract though, so leaving the following season probably seemed like a more likely outcome for the Foxes’ legend. It is not as though the East Midlands club were actively pushing for his departure either. Instead, an interested club approached them and they were aware Kasper was very much open to the move.
Football can be cut-throat at times but it seems unlikely that Leicester would have denied the wishes of one of their club legends following 11 years of service. Sentimental reasons aside too, there may well have been a feeling at the club that now was a good time to part ways. Although not obvious to everyone, many Leicester fans believed that their Danish keeper was suffering something of a decline by this stage in his career. Despite finishing in eighth place, no club in the league conceded more set-piece goals and many fans attribute this to their goalkeeper. Additionally, across the previous two years he was ranked 18th and 13th in the Premier League when looking at the ‘prevented goals’ (per 90 minutes) metric.
So, while there is always an element of surprise when such a familiar face leaves while still a first-choice option, it was a move that did at least make sense to many Leicester fans. There was no real need to even fork out money for a replacement as Danny Ward, who the club had spent £12.5m on four years earlier, was seen as being up to the task of filling Kasper’s boots.
Despite stating his desire to play more Champions League football, Nice had not qualified for the competition when Schmeichel joined them. They had, however, booked their place in the UEFA Conference League play-off round. Admittedly, this is not as glamorous as Europe’s most elite club-level competition but it was still continental football, something the Dane had only experienced 29 times before that. This was also more than Leicester could offer as their eighth-place finish in the Premier League was not good enough to secure any form of European football.
Champions League qualification for the following season also looked like a more realistic target for Nice as opposed to Leicester. The Eaglets finished just three points off the Champions League places in 2021/22 and missed out on the Europa League on goal difference. This was after having a point deducted due to crowd troubles that resulted in a clash with Marseille being abandoned. So, while there would be no Champions League initially for Schmeichel, it seemed a plausible future possibility.
Kasper was also attracted by the prospect of playing abroad and having a real change of scenery. He told the press, “I wanted to try something else. It’s a new experience for my family and it will allow me to learn a new language.” He had also been able to get some insight from the club from a couple of teammates. Leicester’s Nampalys Mendy and Ricardo Pereira both spoke highly of the Ligue 1 outfit, as did fellow countryman Kasper Dolberg.
Evidently, there was clear reason for Schmeichel to be keen on Nice but there was also a sense that this was the best offer he was going to get. There had been no credible rumours of anyone else interested in the Copenhagen-born man despite his lowly £1m price tag. To land a deal with one of the best teams in France, who were actively searching for a number one following the departure of Walter Benitez, was not going to be beaten.