As last days go, few can beat Ritchie De Laet’s amazing climax to the season in 2016.
Winning promotion from the Championship with Middlesbrough, then jumping in his car for the journey to Leicester to join the Premier League medal celebrations gives him a unique insight into final-day drama.
But as he sits at home in Antwerp on Sunday, the former Manchester United and Leicester defender admits he is excited at the unfolding Champions League shoot-out at the King Power Stadium.
The 31-year-old Royal Antwerp star – preparing for the Belgian Cup Final against Club Brugge next Saturday –admits he has split loyalties.
Foxes striker Jamie Vardy is still a big pal, while not long ago he exchanged messages with United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who helped his progress while reserve team manager at Old Trafford.
And he knows emotions will be running high with a minimum £25million Champions League pot of gold awaiting the winners.
“My last day was just crazy – nothing could beat that,” said De Laet.
“Celebrating promotion with Boro, then making it to Leicester at half-time to get my medal with them. I was so tired I ended up missing both parties – but I can’t wait for this one. Recently it’s not been often that so much has been riding on the last day.
“I was glued to the Championship in midweek, but Sunday will top that.
“It’s going to be a special day whether Leicester hold on or if United manage to take their place.
“United seem to have the momentum. Leicester did brilliantly until the lockdown, but couldn’t get going again when football restarted. If I was going to choose a winner, it would be United because of the run they’re on and the form of their strikers – Mason Greenwood, especially.”
But De Laet, will be happy for whoever emerges triumphant.
He believes Solskjaer stands to gain plenty if he guides United back to the Champions League after admitting he never saw him managing at Old Trafford so quickly. De Laet said: “When Ole was in charge of the reserves I could see he had qualities that would make him a good manager.
“But I never thought he’d be in charge of United so quickly… later in his career, yes.
“He’s done a good job to get the club into this position on the last day and knows what they are all about, especially with young players. And I laugh when I see people call him a soft touch – he was never that when I was in the reserves! He could be a hard guy when he had to be.”
Paul Pogba was in the reserves alongside De Laet and the defender believes the French World Cup winner should be a vital part of United’s future.
“When Paul was in the team, he was a few years younger, but his body was so developed he could play at a higher level for his age,” added De Laet. “I hope he stays injury-free because he should be a big part of what Ole is building there.”
While the odds might favour United, De Laet will be delighted if pal Vardy tastes Champions League again.
“It’ll be massive for Vards – and a reward for the loyalty he showed after Leicester won the title,” said De Laet. “When a lot of players left, he stayed, despite the options to leave.
“He’s still producing and chasing the Golden Boot, so another crack at Champions League would be big for him.”