It should come as no surprise that Leicester have taken the Football Reflective’s team of the year accolade. Greatest Achievement in League Football covered that story but the title explains all you need to know. Their Premier League success defied all reason and logical, it was the thing of movie scripts. But 2016 is a calendar year, not a season, and this means some will question the choice and put forward others.
The main rival comes from the idea Portugal deserve it for winning the European Championship. There are a number of problems with this. Ignoring the direct comparison – Portugal were never 5000/1 outsiders and they did have the best player in the world fighting their cause – the gulf across class and expectation was never stacked against the Portuguese.
The reason it appeared like they’d overcome insurmountable odds was because how lacklustre they were from one game to the next. They only qualified from the group stage because of the expanded tournament format, finishing third, failing to win a match.
Ronaldo saved their Euros with two goals and an equaliser against Hungary to make it 3-3. Hardly capturing the imagination like a side tipped for relegation that only lost three games all season.
If Portugal want an example of a great upset, a team clinching the Euros against all the odds, they should think back to a final they featured in. Sadly for them, they were on the losing side as Greece took the trophy in 2004.
The Ronaldo story, of winning the Champions League and Euros, gives false gravity to Portugal’s performance. Leicester’s triumph was self-contained and all-encompassing.
But the start of a new season in August 2016 reset a number of things. The expectations were dulled down and the wildly inaccurate pre-season predictions from a year before started to come true. Nobody expected Leicester to retain the title, very few even tipped them to finish top four.
The extra matches in the Champions League cited as the main stumbling block. Those observations have largely come to fruition. Leicester are having the season domestically that Claudio Ranieri predicted twelve months previous. He’ll be genuinely relieved to see forty points this year.
Bizarrely, it is the added Champions League matches that warrant them Team of the Year status. Just like when they stormed the Premier League, they have defied convention and opted out of the usual acclimatisation period clubs require in Europe.
Some will say the changed seeding format favoured the champions but they earned that right and have made the most of the draw. What took Manchester City several years has been accomplished by Leicester in a handful of games. And for a lot less money.
It was the only way to maintain the dream – improbable title defence aside. Europe are a year behind the news and may struggle to work Leicester out in time. It wouldn’t be a shock to see them progress beyond the Sevilla tie, after that, all bets are off.
Could 2016’s “greatest sporting achievement ever” be surpassed by a club floundering at the bottom of the Premier League table taking the Champions League in 2017? Sounds impossible . . . but so did Leicester winning the top flight of English football.
We all should have learnt not to bet against the team of 2016: Leicester City.