Leicester City manager Craig Shakespeare said his side’s remarkable run to the Champions League quarter-finals left his players determined to return to Europe’s top table as soon as possible.
Appearing in the tournament for the first time Leicester cruised through the group phase and sank Europa League champions Sevilla in the last 16 before falling to Atletico Madrid in the quarter-finals.
With Leicester 12th in the Premier League it may be some time before they rub shoulders with Europe’s elite again, but Shakespeare said that would now be the objective.
“I hope the benefit is they want some more of it,” he told reporters at the King Power Stadium after Tuesday’s 1-1 draw with Atletico resulted in a 2-1 aggregate defeat.
“They’re very disappointed, but they can be proud of what they’ve achieved and we can be proud of how we’ve conducted ourselves. They should want more of this.
“All players want to play at the highest level and the Champions League is the highest level. We have to get back to winning ways in the Premier League now.”
Shakespeare, 53, has had a stunning impact since succeeding the sacked Claudio Ranieri, steering Leicester clear of the relegation zone and masterminding a 2-0 second-leg win over Sevilla.
He is only under contract until the end of the season and said he was looking forward to sitting down with the club’s Thai owners, the King Power travel retail group, to discuss his future.
“It’s not in my hands. It’s in the club’s hands,” he said.
“We’ll sit down at the end of the season. I’m more than happy to sit down before that if it arises. The contract says until the end of the season.
“I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve enjoyed the Champions League. You’re pitting your wits against one of the best managers and one of the best sides in the world. It’s been a really, really good experience.”
– ‘Living in fear’ –
Atletico went 2-0 up on aggregate when Saul Niguez headed in Filipe Luis’s cross mid-way through the first half, but a half-time switch by Shakespeare threatened to provide a route back into the tie for Leicester.
With Marc Albrighton and half-time substitute Ben Chilwell deployed as wing-backs, Leicester pinned Atletico back and drew level on the night when Jamie Vardy slammed in from close range.
Atletico had to weather heavy pressure to see the game out and victorious coach Diego Simeone was generous in his praise of his side’s opponents.
Shakespeare’s tactical change was “fantastic”, he said, and it had been “almost a pleasure to compete” against Leicester.
“They never gave up. They never let their heads drop,” he said. “We were living in fear all night. They pushed us all the way.”
Atletico have reached the semi-finals of the Champions League for the third time in four years, having fallen to city rivals Real Madrid in the 2014 and 2016 finals.
But Simeone said it was inaccurate to talk about his side as one of the great teams of Europe.
“When you talk about the greats of Europe, you have to put a financial slant on things,” he said.
“The greats are Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Barca. But from a purely footballing point of view, we can compete. We are competitive.
“Before you try to make headlines, we’re not one of the greats only in that sense. But we are a team that competes.”
Atletico were joined in the last four by Real, who beat Bayern Munich 4-2 for a 6-3 aggregate victory.
Atletico came within minutes of beating Real in the 2014 final, only to lose 4-1 after extra time, and went down on penalties in the 2016 decider.
They also lost the 1974 final against Bayern after a replay.
Asked what it will take for Atletico to finally win the tournament, Simeone replied: “We’re just going to keep trying and trying and trying and trying.”
Leicester, United Kingdom | AFP