Leicester City fans should be excited about their new signing Vicente Iborra, who has moved to the King Power Stadium from Sevilla for around £12 million, as he possesses a strong character.
The Spanish midfielder proved that back in December 2011 when he overcame a massive personal tragedy. His daughter Alma was born prematurely and died four days later, but Iborra decided to take part in Levante's La Liga fixture.
The small club from Valencia hosted Sevilla, and Iborra entered the field with 24 minutes remaining to help preserve the 1-0 lead. "This team is like a second family for me," he explained afterwards.
The 2011-12 season was a memorable one for Levante. The tiny outfit amazingly led the table ahead of Real Madrid and Barcelona by the end of October after winning seven matches in a row. But unlike Leicester's incredible Premier League triumph in 2015-16, Levante were unable to keep their magical run going for much longer. Though they finished sixth and qualified for Europa League, which is still an incredible achievement.
Iborra was at the very heart of it. He understands what it takes to represent a small club with passionate fans. He knows better than anyone how to overcome significant difficulties and improve step by step on the way up. He is the ultimate winner with the underdog background.
Nobody could have predicted that Iborra would become a star in the Spanish league when he was promoted to Levante's first squad at the beginning of 2008. He was considered a very limited striker, who only got an opportunity because the Italian forward Christian Rigano left the club. Gianni De Biasi, who would later enjoy remarkable success as Albania coach, didn't believe in him and Iborra only started four games and scored once as Levante were relegated. His career was going nowhere, but the youngster had other ideas.
The turning point came thanks to Luis Garcia Plaza who arrived at Levante in the summer of 2008 and decided to move Iborra into central midfield. The coach noticed that the player's physical strength and stamina could be better used for winning balls in midfield, rather than fighting in the penalty area.
And Iborra listened. Dedicated and disciplined, he is always willing to learn and by the time Levante returned to Primera Division in 2010, he was one of their leaders and most important players.
Plaza certainly rated the player very highly. "Vicente had matured a lot," he said. "He is very humble, receptive, can play in different positions, is very powerful in tackle and very good in the air. He had improved tactically, can use both feet, and possesses a good shot. He can score goals. There is a bright future ahead of him."
The coach was right about Iborra's scoring abilities. The player only netted five times in his first five seasons at Levante, but suddenly exploded with seven goals in all competitions in 2012-13 and that attracted the attention of Monchi. Sevilla's legendary director of football agreed a €6m deal for the midfielder and convinced him to sign.
At Sevilla, Iborra flourished into a more complete player. Able to perform as a defensive midfielder or box-to-box warrior, he also developed a habit of arriving into the penalty area at the right time. He scored 23 league goals in four seasons at Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, winning three Europa League trophies in a row, and credited coach Unai Emery for his development. "He knew that I had such an ability," he said.
And yet, scoring and personal glory were never really important to Iborra. True to his Levante roots, he had always aspired to be part of a collective effort.
— Leicester City (@LCFC) July 6, 2017
"I will always be a hard-working player," he said. "I am trying to improve in order to help the team. If I can score or read the game better, that is great. The main thing is to work for the good of the team. Whatever is good for the team is good for me personally as well."
Such an attitude brought him admiration among fans and teammates alike; Iborra proudly wore the captain's armband at Sevilla and continued to do his utmost for the team even after losing his place in the starting XI under Jorge Sampaoli last term.
He became the first midfielder in La Liga history to score a hat trick as a substitute -- in the 3-0 win at Celta Vigo last December -- but Iborra spoke more in the postmatch interview about how he was sorry to have replaced an injured teammate, rather than his own glory.
Iborra's rise could have seen him move to a top club: There were numerous reports that Luis Enrique considered signing the midfielder for Barcelona in 2015, while Monchi -- who moved to Roma from Sevilla this year -- reportedly tried to bring him to Stadio Olimpico this summer as a potential replacement for Kevin Strootman.
It would have been well deserved, but Iborra will feel more comfortable at a less glamorous club. At Leicester, he should be able to find the Levante spirit once again, and his all-round play is definitely welcome in the Premier League.
Iborra is not the subtlest of players -- as 111 yellow and eight red cards he received throughout his career show -- but that is also a good asset in England.
Leicester have struggled to replace the energy and workrate of N'Golo Kante since their title success but have now made a very positive addition to their squad. Though Iborra's dream of playing for Spain is likely to be be over at the age of 29, the midfielder will get a chance to show his skills in the Premier League -- a division that should suit him nicely.