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(From Leicester Mercury)
Byline: ROB TANNER
After a year of change and transition, Leicester City can look forward to 2012 with plenty of optimism, believes club ambassador Alan Birchenall.
"The Birch", who was handed a life-time contract with City this year, says the club is now in the best shape for many years to mount a challenge to return to the Premier League.
The Leicester City legend believes with the backing of the club's Thai owners Vichai and Top Raksriaksorn and following the return of Nigel Pearson as manager, City could push on in 2012 for promotion, and says he hasn't looked forward to the turn of a year so much in years.
"At the start of this year things were looking a little desperate for us," said Birchenall. "We were 17th in the Championship and Vichai and Top had not long taken over and we didn't know then what was in store.
"With their magnificent backing we rapidly climbed the table and enjoyed a successful period and there was no doubt some quality players were brought in.
"Ultimately we fell short but there were plenty of encouraging signs."
After City finished 10th in the table, despite at one stage sitting in seventh and one point off the play-offs, then manager Sven-Goran Eriksson was given more than GBP10 million to spend and the Swede brought in 12 new players, but his side struggled to gel and in October, after just 13 league games, Eriksson departed and former City boss Nigel Pearson made a surprise return, a decision which Birchenall believes was the right change at the right time. "Sven was the politest and most obliging manager I have ever come across," he said.
"I never saw him refuse an autograph or picture.
"Even one evening when we had a night out his …