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Danny Drinkwater Leads Leicester City's Band of Brilliant Unsung Heroes

12/02/2016 17:51 GMT | Updated 12/02/2017 10:12 GMT

Danny Drinkwater hasn't always been a ferociously combative midfielder attracting admiring glances from England managers. In fact, he's never really come close to being capped for the senior national side.

However, Drinkwater was the teenager who couldn't make the grade for Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United, but he's now looking down with a smile at his former employers, who are struggling to achieve Champions League football this season, while he has his sights fixated on a fairytale league trophy.

The shortlist for Player of the Year already has two cast-iron candidates; Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez. Yes, there can be no denying that their magnificent individual seasons have propelled the Foxes to within a tantalising distance of completing the biggest Premier League fairytale ever, but every great side - and that's what they are - has their unsung heroes and Leicester are no different.

Plenty of column inches have been dedicated to the tireless midfield endeavours of N'Golo Kante and Monday's newspapers would have given you glowing testimonials of Drinkwater's authoritative display against Manchester City on Saturday. Drinkwater's form is not an overnight thing. He has long been the heart of Leicester's midfield. He is the anchor, the heartbeat, the midfielder who managed to overcome being a United reject and a Cardiff flop and become a consistent and widely-praised top-flight operator.

Back in 2011, Drinkwater wasn't getting a look-in at Old Trafford and was shipped out to Cardiff. While he was expected to flourish under Dave Jones at the Bluebirds, he was gone just after Christmas, off to Watford. Another fruitless loan spell at Barnsley followed and Drinkwater's career looked to be directionless, any prophet with a pen would have surmised his years were destined to be spent drifting through the lower leagues with relative anonymity.

Then, Leicester came calling. Drinkwater found a home at the King Power Stadium, thriving under Nigel Pearson as the Foxes pushed for promotion from the Championship. Leicester were a force to be reckoned with under Pearson and Drinkwater exhibited the same standards of determination, class and commitment back then as he does now.

He's a fiercely driven individual, who recognised that his career wasn't panning out like he had planned when he first set foot in United's prestigious Carrington training ground. It would be easy for a young footballer to utter the words 'I've made it' once he gets his own locker at Manchester United, but, as illustrated in the case of Drinkwater, there is often a darkness when things don't work out. Drinkwater, any of his team-mates will tell you, is a consummate professional and he's moulded his strengths into becoming an uber-reliable defensive shield who has kept Gokhan Inler, a man who has made 89 appearances for Switzerland and won two Coppa Italias with Napoli, out of the team.

He's now knocking on the door of making his senior England debut and it's quite a turnaround for a man who is still only 25. Of course, Drinkwater isn't an anomaly - he is symbolic of Leicester's spirit and togetherness as a whole. Claudio Ranieri's side is brimming with trusted lieutenants who have pushed themselves harder than any of their opponents for the purpose of achieving a dream.

Marc Albrighton is another example. His career appeared to have hit the skids after a series of ailments and even popped up at Wigan on loan from Aston Villa. The winger looked set for life in the Championship, now he's on the cusp of rubbing shoulders with the heavyweights of Europe in the Champions League. Now, Villa are wincing every time they think about letting Albrighton go to Leicester for free. Albrighton, along with Kante, Drinkwater and Shinji Okazaki, all fit the mould and style of play Ranieri has encouraged all season. They're a hard-working, high-pressing machine that are borderline unplayable when operating in unison.

Even Kasper Schmeichel is a wonderful story. He was a protege at Manchester City but has played for seven different clubs before finding hid commanding voice at Leicester. He's been irreplaceable for the Foxes this season and now stands on the verge of following in his father's hallowed footsteps in becoming a Premier League champion.

Arsene Wenger said it all when he claimed the whole of England wanted to see Leicester win the title. He's right, but there's nothing wrong with routing for a fairytale, especially in football. A fairytale is made up of many chapters and features an array of characters. Vardy and Mahrez have played like Barcelona at times this season, but they owe a great deal to their more untrumpeted colleagues.

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