Passion, determination and preparation are just some of the key ingredients in De Montfort Students’ Union (DSU)'s first team men’s footballers’ success this year – not to mention a helping hand from a name sure to be familiar to football fans across the UK.
That is the opinion of manager Chris Franklin, at least – who, during his season-long tenure, led his side to title glory and a memorable Varsity victory over local rivals the University of Leicester.
After missing out on the league title by a single point in 2014/15, Chris quickly realised that wholesale changes were not required to be successful, but instead a little fine-tuning, echoing the work done by his illustrious counterpart at Leicester City, Claudio Ranieri, who adopted a similar approach after taking over from Nigel Pearson last summer.
One of the areas that Chris and club chairman Luke Taylor identified as needing work was the players’ fitness to be able to hit the ground running. That is why they invited players to return to university early for a gruelling, but ultimately rewarding, pre-season.
Chris explained: “Because they were so close [to winning the league], to me, it wasn’t about drastic changes.
“But looking at the guys from the year before, seeing that they didn’t necessarily start so well, I wanted to hit the ground running with pre-season.
“I encouraged them to come back a week before Freshers’ off their own backs, leave home early and move back to Leicester. Obviously, I couldn’t force them to come back so it was good that the attitudes were there from the start.
“What I tried to do was put the emphasis on the guys themselves. I said to them, ‘if you work hard enough, you will achieve success’.
“For me, from the start I needed to see a positive and committed attitude.”
Luke, a centre-half, added: “Last year we felt that we should have won the league so this year we knew from the get-go that we were fully capable. We just needed to focus at the start of the year, which we did do and came back early for pre-season, and really spurred on to take every game.”
After putting in the hard yards in pre-season, the team reaped the rewards from the first day of the season right through until the last.
Luke said: “We thought Derby would be one of the hardest games we would play in the league, but we met them on the opening day and won 3-1.
“The confidence grew from there. We won every game in our league. We won one week, then the next week, then the next week, and the ball was really rolling.
“We just felt like no-one could really stop us.”
The team – along with DSU’s other men’s and women’s football squads – benefitted from the experience of having Leicester City’s former League Cup-winning captain Matt Elliott as part of his coaching set-up, and believes that their different qualities dovetailed to create an effective management style.
Chris Franklin (holding trophy) has praised his players' pre-season effort as a major factor in their title – and Varsity – winning season.
Chris continued: “Matt’s an ex-professional footballer with 18 international caps. What he helped us with was instilling a level of professionalism in everything that we do.
“It matters just as much what you do off the pitch as it does on the pitch.
“On a personal note, it helped to bounce ideas off someone that’s played at the highest level.”
The team this year adopted a new playing system, one that was often employed by former City manager Martin O’Neill during Matt’s time at the club.
Luke said: “Playing a new system of 3-5-2, which Matt has played in, and is his area of expertise, our three centre-halves learnt a lot from him because he knew exactly how to play in that role.
“Just having him there, as an experienced figure, got the respect of everyone straight away.”
Maintaining a 100% record, the club won the league at a canter, but there was little room for celebrations as their attention soon turned to Varsity.
After suffering two successive defeats in the fixture, the team were this year able to exact revenge on their neighbours with a comprehensive 3-0 victory, sparking wild scenes of celebration amongst players and supporters.
Chris said: “It was a season of highlights, but to have that feeling, in front of so many spectators and senior figures from the university – and to put on a performance like that – it’s going to take some beating for me.”
As their studies come to an end, Luke and Chris will be leaving DMUFC this year. However, they hope to see the club continue to grow and prosper, from the first team down to the seventh, and hopefully see more promotions throughout the club.
One thing is for sure: the foundations are in place for a legacy to be built.
To find out more about sport at DSU, click here.