Leicester City are Premier League Champions! It is very hard to take in. It has been described as the greatest ever sporting achievement. It is a wonderful thing for football. Even those who pride themselves in having absolutely no interest in soccer were drawn in to the fairytale. It is a story that will be told as long as there is a thing called sport and a city called Leicester.
First up, it might have the making of a fairytale. It might have the happy ending feeling of a fairytale. Yet, do not trivialise what Leicester City’s players, manager and coaching staff have just done to a fairytale. This was an utterly incredible achievement that took skill, strategy, hard work and just sheer sporting nerve. No one was manipulating an imaginative script. This is for real!
It all started so fun like. Leicester were bottom of the league for most of last season and somehow survived in what was the great escape. Then they started this season with some wins and their striker Jamie Vardy, who had been a non league player until very recently, scored goals in the most consecutive number of Premiership games ever. They were still trying to get 40 points and stay up.
Even as they went top of the table they were dismissed as not being serious contenders. For me my cynicism disappeared on an afternoon in February when they came to play my beloved Manchester City at the Etihad. I was convinced that we would give them a darn good hiding and it would propel us to another title and send Leicester crashing, ending up being thrilled to gain a Europa League spot. Even at 2-0 down… BUT they stuffed us! 3-1. Maybe… surely not… but maybe!
Today they are Champions with two games left. City made it with two seconds to spare in 2012. Here are the staggering facts. If you picked Leicester and Manchester City’s strongest teams, Manchester City’s cost £240 million more! Indeed few City players cost less than Leicester’s entire team. Manchester United have spent more on transfers in the last two seasons than Leicester have in their 132 year history. In today’s Premiership world where money wins Leicester have proved all that wrong!
So how did they do it? Well you don’t do it without hard work, skill and good management. That taken as read, there are a few factors that led to this seeming freak of nature. They had very few injuries. Their key players particularly played most games. Vardy and Mahrez were ever presents. Every player played out of their skin. They had a team ethic that was tight and everyone worked hard for everyone else.
Manager Claudio Ranieri was in a class of his own. He took over a team that Nigel Pearson had put together but his tactics and everything about what he did was heroic. He didn't go changing everything. He worked out his team’s strengths and the opponents weaknesses and he inspired these players to play the best they could possibly play for 36 games running! That he did it with humour and grace and no silly mind games or grumpy asides about officials and opponents is even better!
It does have to be said though, and this is not belittling them, a couple of other phenomenal things happened. Who’d have believed that Champions Chelsea would struggle to make the top half. The fall from the pinnacle under Mourinho was as big a mystery (and for some pleasure!) as Leicester winning.
Chelsea out of the way and surely Manchester City would cruise to the title with easily the best squad. Even with that squad injuries, loss of form and the strange succession of Pep as manger for next season all contrived to have them struggle for the top 4. Arsenal? Well only Arsene knows. All this gave Leicester a gap on the inside rail and fair play they took it.
Can they do it again? I doubt it BUT then we doubted they could do it once. The Champions League will bring money but it also brings more matches, tough matches, and injuries along with it. Expectations bring pressure and everyone will want to beat the Champions next season.
Finally, as a City fan, hear me out. Yes, City cost so much more money and failed. Yet, seeing Leicester’s title as all that happened would be a wrong perspective. City have won the League Cup (not enough return on investment for sure), would have gotten further in the FA Cup had they not put the youth team out in the Quarter Final to save legs for the Champions League. They are in the semi final of that Champions League and though it is a very outside chance to beat Real Madrid away, a chance it is. Could Leicester have won the title, another domestic cup and reached the Champions League semi-final with that squad?
Whatever, let us all bask in this moment. We are all Leicester fans right now. For me, I feel that nothing can beat the feeling of City’s Premiership win in 2012. I have had the feeling. I am delighted to share it around. Even more delighted that it is a team that has never won it before and never expected to win it. It is a moment when we were back in the 70s when Derby, Burnley and QPR have it a good lash. Let us all enjoy it and get ready for next season. A Leicester v C. Palace Charity Shield? Now that would be something!
Dilly ding, dilly dong!