His passing and tactical awareness was the glue that binded together Claudio Ranieri’s team, allowing N’Golo Kante, Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy in particular to use the assets they had.
An exciting £35million move to Chelsea followed a year later but since then Drinkwater has seen virtually nothing except trouble.
Danny Drinkwater won the Premier League at Leicester but is now seen as a troublemaker
Drinkwater kisses the Premier League title after playing a key role in Leicester’s surprise win
Drinkwater is said to have clashed with Aston Villa team-mate Jota in training on Tuesday
May 2, 2016 – Leicester are crowned Premier League champions
September 1, 2017 – Drinkwater moves to Chelsea for £35million
September 11, 2017 – Suffers a calf strain that keeps him out for 44 days, missing 10 games
April 11, 2018 – Calf strain reoccurs and he is sidelined for almost two months, missing a further eight matches
August 5, 2018 – Plays 20 minutes of the Community Shield final, his only football for the club this season
September 4, 2018 – Left out of Chelsea’s squad of 23 for Europa League
April 8, 2019 – Arrested and then charged for drink driving and crashing his Range Rover in the early hours
May 13, 2019 – Receives 20-month driving ban after pleading guilty to drink-driving
September 1, 2019 – Drinkwater is attacked outside a Manchester nightclub after an altercation with fellow footballer Kgosi Ntlhe
January 3, 2020 – Burnley send Drinkwater back to Chelsea as they do not take up the option to extend his loan
January 7, 2020 – Premier League strugglers sign Drinkwater on loan until the end of the season
March 10, 2020 – Aston Villa consider sending Drinkwater back to parent club Chelsea after he clashed with team-mate Jota on training. Reports suggest he aimed a headbutt at Jota.
The midfielder has started only 10 league games in two-and-a-half years for Chelsea, Burnley and Aston Villa.
A bust-up with Villa team-mate Jota on Tuesday ended in a headbutt from Drinkwater, who now faces disciplinary action from his loan club and a possible enforced return to Chelsea, where he’s not part of Frank Lampard’s plans.
Earlier this season, during an equally unsuccessful loan spell at Burnley, he became involved in a fight in Manchester which left his face heavily marked.
It’s a sad decline for the 30-year-old who was once feted by Gareth Southgate before a series of pull-outs from squads meant the England manager moved on to other midfield players.
For so long, Drinkwater’s career reflected a positive message that perseverance pays off. He never played a first-team game at his hometown club Manchester United but gained experience on loan with Huddersfield, Cardiff, Watford and Barnsley.
He signed permanently for Leicester from United in 2012 and was instrumental in their fairytale rise from League One to champions of England.
He had just turned 26 – in the peak of his career – when he collected a Premier League winner’s medal – and had just received his first international call-up.
Ranieri said at the time ‘Drinky’ deserved it. ‘Always available for his team-mates, to ask for the ball, to have a personality,’ said the Italian. ‘Very attentive and I like him when he goes to the tackle. He wins the tackles.’
Like the rest of the Leicester team, Drinkwater missed Kante the following season, after the Frenchman moved to Chelsea. But in 2017, Drinkwater rejoined him at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea had just won the title themselves but Antonio Conte wanted to strengthen.
Though there were eyebrows raised at the size Chelsea paid, there also seemed common sense in reviving the Kante-Drinkwater axis in midfield. But things have never been right for the Englishman since.
A thigh injury delayed his debut until late-October. Conte, the manager who signed him, went at the end of the season. Drinkwater played 22 times for Conte, largely in the cup competitions, but Maurizio Sarri want him at all.
The emergence of Ruben Loftus-Cheek and arrivals of Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic pushed him even further down the pecking order. In 2019, he received a 20-month driving ban after pleading guilty to drink-driving.
Two years earlier, Drinkwater had pulled out of an England squad against Germany and Brazil siting a lack of fitness. ‘He feels he’s not fit enough to play,’ said Southgate pointedly. While those games turned out to be the start of international careers for Harry Maguire and Jordan Pickford, they were the end for Drinkwater. His England career has surely stopped at the three caps earned during his time at Leicester.
Lampard decided early on that Drinkwater wasn’t going to be in his Chelsea team this season. The midfielder went to Burnley but played only twice before being sent back to Stamford Bridge in January.
Drinkwater and N’Golo Kante formed a fine midfield partnership during Leicester’s title win
The midfielder failed to make an impact at Chelsea after leaving Leicester in 2017
Burnley did not extend Drinkwater’s loan deal as he failed to make a real impact at the Clarets
Drinkwater’s career is going from bad to worse with Villa considering cutting short his loan
An incident outside a Manchester nightclub didn’t help. Not only was Drinkwater left with cuts and bruises but an ankle injury as well. Not the best news for someone who missed four months of action at Chelsea with three separate calf injuries.
Aston Villa, desperate to stay in the Premier League, hired Drinkwater on loan in January. Despite his lack of match sharpness, he was thrown in by manager Dean Smith for his debut against Manchester City on January 12.
It was a disaster. Villa lost 6-1, and were 5-0 down when Drinkwater was hooked after 79 minutes. Even considering City’s ability, he looked a player miles off the pace after his troubles.
His mistakes cost Villa their first two goals – both finished off by one of his former Foxes team-mates. Gary Lineker noted the irony, quipping: ‘Mahrez and Drinkwater still playing well together.’
Injuries, lifestyle, a lack of belonging, all have contributed to Drinkwater becoming a forgotten man. He’s only played once for Villa since January 21, lasting the first hour in a 3-2 home defeat against Spurs.
It’s taken the latest Jota incident to remind everyone of the talent that’s been wasted since he left Leicester in 2017.