Leicester City winning the English Premier League completes a dream season for a club that battled to survival only twelve months previous. This unexpected success still belies belief, for months so-called experts have struggled to give reason for their insurmountable lead. A common denominator is that other teams have failed. This denies The Foxes the full credit they deserve.
The obvious comparison people have gone for is between the current Leicester side and Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest. Clough’s side gained promotion from the old First Division and went on to win the title as the new boys. Throughout that season they had many doubters. It was deemed unlikely they could maintain the pace and stay at the top.
Of course, Forest went onto greater success but this initial title win has been the watermark for all underdogs in English football. Until now. Football was a different game back then. The gap between the haves and the have nots has never been greater than it currently stands. Massive clubs like Liverpool – who are the third highest spenders in Premier League history – have still yet to win their first Premier League title.
Clubs of Leicester’s stature are supposed to be happy with Premier League survival – nothing more. But they haven’t read the script this season, even after a bad start at Arsenal. It’s imperfect beginnings that laid the way for this journey.
Unlike Forest in 1978, who came up in good form and were full of confidence, they should have been riddled with doubts. A great escape didn’t mask their deficiencies. Sacking their manager, Nigel Pearson, after a series of explosive moments could have upset a fragile dressing room. Then they brought in The Tinker Man.
Claudio Ranieri, a man that had never won a top flight championship, was hired to ensure they reached 40 points. Many pundits claimed his arrival would send Leicester down, whenever anyone questioned this they were reminded his Greece side lost to San Marino.
As a polar opposite to Brian Clough, he remained a man happy to be in the shadows. Humble rather than full of Clough’s bravado. He was living the dream along with his fans. His humility sowed the squad together. He protected them from pressure, maintained expectation.
It was a case of all the pieces coming together at the right time. A manager with years of experience, a bunch of players with a point to prove, and the bigger boys struggling for one reason or another. That latter point shouldn’t be used against The Foxes. If teams failed to meet their personal targets for the season it doesn’t take away from Leicester’s success.
The league table never, ever, lies. Only three defeats speak volumes in a season where so many teams have struggled for form and stability. Some of the big guns may have been shy, but somebody had to take the chance. It was Leicester that came out head and shoulders above the rest.
A man that once tinkered stuck with familiar players. Unlike so many current managers, that claim to have an “ideology” or “project” as a cover for stubbornly sticking to rigid tactics, Ranieri evolved along with his players. They started the season almost playing like a Sunday league side, fast on the counter, looking like grinding out results was above them and it was only a matter of time before they became unstuck. Rather than become stale, they morphed into a side capable of chalking up one-nils.
It proves that cash doesn’t guarantee victory. The football goliaths should hang their heads in shame. Extensive scouting networks and the best facilities in the land have continued to show snobbery and fail to give talent within the lower leagues a chance. How many more Jamie Vardys are hidden, waiting for someone to take a gamble?
Naysayers have pointed to Leicester’s summer transfer spend but it is small fry compared to the likes of clubs expected to finish in the top four. With the new TV money coming into the game next season they now have the ability to spend. The sad fact is they will probably have to with the extra European games filling up their schedule.
Even if they do now splash the cash, it will be brought about because of success, not the pursuit of it.
The fear with Financial Fair Play was that football would be plunged into a status quo. That the dreams of fans up and down the land, clubs big and small, would be extinguished unless a rich benefactor spent billions. Leicester may have the new rich owner but it is good old-fashioned on the pitch ethics that have brought about the fairy-tale title.
The gap between the top and bottom has never been so high, the scope for daring to dream the impossible so low, but Leicester have changed this. Winning the Premier League is an achievement unlikely to ever be matched. Unless they go onto further success in Europe next season. But that can’t happen . . . can it?
It’d be a brave person that placed any restriction on hope following this triumph.