Throughout history, football is littered with a multitude of franchises in which a prestigious title’s second coming has failed to match the original’s critical acclaim. One sequel that has managed to overcome the crippling burden of expectation is Kasper Schmeichel.
By comparison, the offspring of Peter Schmeichel’s Manchester United teammates – who were equally instrumental in securing Sir Alex Ferguson’s first league title – Steve Bruce and Paul Ince, have wilted. Alex Bruce and Tom Ince have become eerily reminiscent of an uninspiring movie series continuation, resembling their predecessor in name alone; both are a subtle reminder that despite what is often widely presumed, the genetics of what makes an exceptional footballer are not hereditary.
There is little to suggest the pair would have vanquished their father’s achievements with a different surname, and this is almost certainly not the defining factor in Alex and Tom’s failure to succeed at the elite level. However, every prodigy would surely favour being allowed to quietly cultivate their talent away from the microscope that the modern football media has become.
Kasper has never been fortunate enough to experience this, exacerbated perhaps by the fact he, like his father before him, plays as a goalkeeper. Further accentuating the potential for comparison and therefore intense scrutiny, Kasper began his career at the same club his father’s ended, Manchester City.
After four years in the Citizens Academy, Kasper Schmeichel had a series of loan spells in search of first-team appearances, gaining his first experience of professional football in 2006 with a brief period at Darlington, then of League Two. What followed was a series of starts first for Bury and then north of the border at Falkirk.
In Scotland, Schmeichel began the process of disassociating himself from his father’s shadow through eye-catching displays against both Old Firm sides. The Dane admitted that summer he desired to remain at the Falkirk Stadium on an extended loan deal, but Manchester City manager Sven-Goran Eriksson had seen enough to warrant a Premier League debut.
West Ham United provided the opposition and Schmeichel made the transition seamlessly, starting the first seven games of the 2007/08 campaign. City were in the infancy of their radical transformation to European superpower but started that season excellently. The Danish keeper conceded just five goals in those initial seven appearances and furthermore kept an impressive four clean sheets. Three of those lockouts came in the opening three fixtures, the final one of that run helping to secure victory over a then dominant Manchester United squad who ruled the Premier League with an iron fist during this period.
Unfortunately, this succession of impressive displays wasn’t enough to displace emerging talent Joe Hart, who for the continuation of the campaign became Eriksson’s first choice.
After being shown glimpses of faith at first-team level for Manchester City, Schmeichel put pen to paper on a four-year deal, theoretically keeping him at Eastlands until 2011. Though the Danish goalkeeper would later admit to his regret at signing such a lengthy contract extension after having to leave Manchester once more due to the futile faith they placed in the goalkeeper.
In order to receive the first team experience he not only craved but required to develop, Schmeichel this time travelled to Championship sides Cardiff City and Coventry City, again on loan.
Circumstances out of the goalkeeper’s control meant that neither of these loan spells were extended, Schmeichel was recalled to Manchester to act as Hart’s back up after Andreas Isaksson requested a transfer.
Disgruntled and frustrated with a perpetual lack of minutes between the sticks the Danish goalkeeper took a bold step to resurrect what was on the brink of a faltering career. He dropped three divisions returning to League Two. The move saw Schmeichel reportedly break Notts County’s transfer record, alongside reuniting with former manager Eriksson, who’d recently been appointed The Magpies director of football.
So absurdly impressive was Peter Schmeichel’s career that he managed to score ten professional goals for four different sides. Other than Rogerio Ceni – who famously converted over 130 set pieces for Sao Paulo – its difficult to comprehend any other goalkeeper who even came close to matching this feat.
Whether intentional or not, Kasper was inches from outdoing his father’s goalscoring exploits through attempting an audacious overhead kick in the dying embers of a match against Morecambe, with the ball narrowly flying over the crossbar.
The aforementioned effort may not have found the back of the net, however the step down through the divisions was beginning to pay dividends. Schmeichel, even with only limited Premier League experience, was obviously a cut above this level, conceding a meagre average of 0.67 goals per game, with an astounding record of maintaining a clean sheet in 55.8% of their league appearances.
A League Two title followed, coupled with an inclusion in the league’s team of the season. Although, in a shocking twist of events, due to financial reasons Schmeichel was released from his four-year contract at the end of the season, after a change in ownership.
Once more this left the young goalkeeper in a somewhat uncertain position and searching for a seventh club in just five years.
Scarcely in his goalkeeping adolescence at 24 years old Schmeichel had offers from across Europe including the Premier League and Bundesliga. Instead, the Dane shunned larger names – possibly due to his previous experience in Manchester – and made the equable decision to join Leeds United of the Championship.
Immediately Schmeichel’s decision was vindicated through being assigned the number one shirt. A series of commanding performances reciprocated Leeds’ faith in the goalkeeper.
One such came during the FA Cup third round against Arsenal that season, Schmeichel forcing a replay against the Premier League side via a colossal display which secured a 1-1 draw. Cesc Fabregas was quick to praise the opposition goalkeeper post-match stating, “he should have received the match ball”.
Sadly, Leeds were unable to replicate their initial performance when travelling to The Emirates as they were defeated 3-1. Although, once more Schmeichel’s display was so impressive the scoreline disguised the onslaught he faced throughout proceedings. Some form of conciliation came via being awarded the player of the FA Cup Third Round.
Despite not being able to sustain his exceptional standards against Arsenal, it came as a shock to most, including the player himself, that at the end of the season Leeds accepted an offer from Leicester City for Schmeichel’s services. The switch meant he would work under Sven Goran Eriksson’s tutelage for the third time.
However, being sent off for two separate offences of dissent within two minutes before and after conceding a penalty is hardly the ideal way to endear yourself to your new fans. Thankfully, – not for the first time in his career – Schmeichel showed incredible maturity to apologise for the incident and redeem himself through keeping 17 clean sheets, while also saving four penalties throughout the campaign.
Finally able to settle at a club, Schmeichel’s growth became exponential the following season as he earned his first international cap and was duly rewarded with a place alongside Wes Morgan in the Championship Team of the Year for 2012/13. The presentation of this award will have come as little conciliation however to the heartbreak the goalkeeper must have endured after conceding Troy Deeney’s 97th-minute winner to send Watford through to the Championship Play-off final.
As bitter as that feeling would have surely felt, it would have made the following season’s redemption even sweeter. Leicester City were unbeaten from December through to April as Schmeichel performed at his imperious best and helped secure promotion with six games to spare, The Foxes finishing the campaign as Champions.
After speculation linking the Danish international to Old Trafford and the San Siro, Schmeichel instead remained faithful and put pen to paper on a new four-year deal, seeing him return to the Premier League after a six-year absence.
What came next is often forgotten by the fairy-tale which followed, but Schmeichel was instrumental in keeping Leicester in the Premier League after spending 19 consecutive weeks at the foot of the Premier League table. 22 points were collected from The Foxes final eight games to ensure arguably the most unlikely survival in history.
Inevitably this achievement will always be dwarfed by the campaign that followed. On the second of May 2016, Leicester managed what was previously thought to be impossible and conquered the established order to win the Premier League. By doing so, Schmeichel finally created his own legacy outright, detaching himself from his father’s shadow, never again would he be thought of as merely a subpar sequel. Oddly enough the title was sealed at the same age and on the same day as Peter Schmeichel’s first, and in doing so, the pair became the first and only biological father and son to both receive a Premier League winners medal.
Following up such an improbable achievement is almost impossible, there was no knowledge or expectation of what Leicester should be aiming to achieve the following season, their squad was still primarily made up of those previously favourites for relegation.
However, topping their Champions League group, victory over Sevilla and a respectable loss to Atletico Madrid masked their initially undignified title defence. After their European exit, the league campaign was salvaged with a 12th place finish.
Perhaps the most impressive achievement of all, is that in the aftermath of an extraordinary seven seasons spent at the King Power Stadium and in such a minute fragment of time, with so much doubt cast from elsewhere and without excessive financial backing, Leicester City has transformed its status within English football to what now feels like a relative stalwart. Kasper Schmeichel has not only witnessed this transformation but been a critical aspect of its evolution.
After observing the tragic scenes which cost club owner and friend Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha his life first hand, the goalkeeper could be forgiven for feeling aggrieved by the very sight of a football, instead his response – as with the entirety of the club – has been nothing but overwhelming maturity and respect.
In the two games that have followed, he is yet to concede and will undoubtedly remain determined to continue that record in his club’s former owner’s honour.
Peter Schmeichel created a legacy that was almost impossible to follow, in spite of many setbacks, Kasper Schmeichel has displayed a mental fortitude equal to that which his father famously possessed. Through the improbability of his achievements Kasper deserves not to bear comparison with his predecessor constantly, the pair will forever remain synonymous but have earned the right to be celebrated independently.