Where Are They Now? Ritchie De Laet

On 7th May 2016, former Manchester United player Ritchie De Laet became the answer to a pub quiz question that will go down in history. The defender picked up two winners medals for two different clubs on the same day. That’ll take some beating. The Belgian was an unused substitute when his loan club Middlesbrough clinched promotion to the top-flight on the final day of the Championship campaign before driving 150 miles to collect his winner’s medal as Leicester City (his parent club) lifted the Premier League trophy.

Despite his unprecedented title double last term, De Laet has been quite the journeyman, having been on the books of eleven different clubs throughout his professional career. He started his career at Royal Antwerp in his native Belgium having come up through the youth ranks however signed for Championship side Stoke City in August 2007 for £100,000 having made just nine appearances for the Belgian outfit. He joined Bournemouth on a trial as a 19-year-old and played in the Cherries 4-1 friendly defeat to Portsmouth before returning to the Britannia Stadium (now known as the Bet365 Stadium). More than a year after joining Stoke and without a first team appearance to his name, De Laet was sent on the first loan spell of his career. Blue Square conference side Wrexham was the destination where he made three league appearances before undergoing a hernia operation which saw him return to Stoke.

In the January transfer window of 2009, United and Stoke agreed on a performance-related payment package that would see De Laet head to the Theatre of Dreams on a three-year deal. The then 20-year-old spent the majority of his time in the Reds reserve side that season however with the title already wrapped up, De Laet was given his debut by Sir Alex Ferguson when United headed to relegation threatened Hull City on the final day of the 2008/09 season. The Belgian lasted 79 minutes before being replaced by Rodrigo Possebon (remember him?) as United recorded a narrow 1-0 victory with Darron Gibson scoring the only goal of the game.

De Laet would see more opportunities fall his way in the season that followed. He made substitute appearances in the Carling Cup (now known as the EFL Cup) third and fourth rounds as United saw off Wolverhampton Wanderers and Barnsley respectively. The Reds were handed a home tie against fellow Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur in the quarter-finals and with that came De Laet’s first start of the season. Gibson opened the scoring with a typically long-range effort before De Laet spared United’s blushes when he made a crucial block as Jermain Defoe looked certain to level proceedings. The importance of the interception was underlined when Gibson grabbed his and United’s second of the evening, ensuring the Reds went into half-time with a two-goal cushion and that’s how it finished. The Reds were injury riddled at the back however De Laet had to watch United’s next two league games in December from the bench. He was handed his first Premier League start of the campaign when a much-changed Wolverhampton Wanderers visited Old Trafford midway through December 2009. De Laet played the full 90 minutes as United eased to a 3-0 although the big talking point of the match was the below-strength side that Wolves manager Mick McCarthy fielded which would later result in a fine from the Premier League.

The Belgian defender was handed his second league start in four days when United faced Fulham at Craven Cottage. Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher started as a centre-back pairing due to United’s injury problems. The London side ran out deserved 3-0 winners while De Laet was hooked off just before the hour mark. Little did he know at the time, that would be his last first-team appearance wearing the Red of Manchester United. He dropped into the reserves for the remainder of the season however it wasn’t all bad as De Laet picked up the Reserve Team Player of the Year for the 2009/10 season.

Loan spells at Sheffield United, Preston North End, Portsmouth and Norwich City saw De Laet fail to make a single appearance for the Reds during the 2010/11 and 2011/12 campaigns. The Reds agreed on a deal for De Laet to move to Championship side Leicester City on a three-year contract along with fellow United player Matty James. De Laet slotted straight into the Leicester defence and became first-choice, making 48 appearances in all competitions as the Foxes finished in the final play-off place, however, lost to Watford in the most dramatic of circumstances.

Having just missed out on promotion to the top-flight during the 2012/13 season, De Laet’s Leicester made no mistake in the campaign that followed. The Foxes romped the Championship, totting up an impressive 102 points, De Laet made 38 appearances across all competitions, scoring twice. Leicester were back in the Premier League and hosted Manchester United in their third home game of the season. De Laet started at right back for the Foxes, however, United looked on course for three points when they were 3-1 to the good just before the hour mark. De Laet’s Leicester dug deep and surprised everyone by stunning United with four goals without reply to win 5-3!

The Foxes recorded just two wins from beating United in September 2014 until the end of March 2015 and were rock bottom of the Premier League table with nine games remaining. Somehow, Leicester pulled off the great escape, finishing a comfortable 14th after winning seven of their last nine league matches. Even more incredibly, Leicester maintained that form going into the 2015/16 season where they lost just three league games as they overcame the odds by winning the Premier League title. De Laet made 12 appearances in the league during the first half of the season, however, was shipped out on loan to Championship side Middlesbrough after falling down the pecking order. As Leicester secured the most unlikely of title wins, ‘Boro clinched promotion on the final day of the Championship season with a 1-1 draw against Brighton and Hove Albion meaning the Belgian ended the 2015/16 campaign with two winners medals.

Despite his double success at the end of last season, De Laet was deemed surplus to requirements at Leicester and was sold to Championship side Aston Villa on a three-year deal. He made three appearances earlier this season before picking up a serious knee ligament injury that has ruled him out for the remainder of the season.

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