Greatest Achievement in League Football

Greatest Achievement in League Football

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.

Sound familiar?

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.

Modern Game, Archaic Attitudes

Modern Game, Archaic Attitudes

 

Last week the Daily Mail, a publication not renowned for high class output, once again confirmed its status as a small minded rag, pouring out the worst of society’s views. The target this time was Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid; a man many believe is the greatest player on Earth. The article didn’t centre on any of his on-field activities, instead it speculated what he enjoyed doing in private – with other men.
The Daily Mail wrote: Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo is in a gay relationship with a Moroccan kickboxer, it has been sensationally claimed.
Proving that in the world where low-end papers exist, it’s always the 1970s. It doesn’t matter if Ronaldo is homosexual or not. It shouldn’t be newsworthy.
The real problem is how a paper known for its xenophobia is using the rumour as some sort of slight against the Portuguese player.
It’s indicative of a fault well rooted in football’s primitive attitudes. In a sport that can change with the times when it comes to generating income, it still hasn’t learnt one thing since the days of Justin Fashanu.
He was the first £1m black footballer and the first professional player to come out as gay in England. The high fee was paid by Brian Clough who took him to Nottingham Forest. The legendary manager admitted in his autobiography one of his biggest regrets was his poor handling of Fashanu.
This came with the benefit of hindsight, coloured by the eventual suicide of the once promising talent. At the time Clough lacked the understanding and knowledge surrounding the issue. Like many back then, he was ignorant when it came to the subject of homosexuality.
Instead of being the father figure he later wished he’d been, when he first found out about Justin’s lifestyle he barred him from training with the first team. Then he hauled Justin into his office and broached the rumour in the manner recalled here, as written in Clough’s autobiography:
“‘Where do you go if you want a loaf of bread?’ I asked him.
‘A baker’s, I suppose.’
‘Where do you go if you want a leg of lamb?’
‘A butcher’s.’
‘So why do you keep going to that bloody poofs’ club?’”
It must have worn Justin down over the years, and by the time he was accused of sexual assault after an incident in America, he feared his colour and sexual orientation would make his case impossible to win.
Watching the many struggles he endured, it’s not hard to understand why only one other player has openly come out since. The fact it was Robbie Rodgers, a free agent at the time and hardly a household name in this country now, proves no top flight players believe it’s worth the risk.
More recently Sol Campbell became the centre of nothing more than gossip. A rumour spread that he left during Arsenal’s halftime interval with West Ham in 2006, a game The Gunners lost 3-2, because his agent had informed him a national newspaper was going to run a story about his sexual preferences.
Pink News printed comments made by Sol Campbell explaining how the racist and homophobic remarks were hard to deal with, he said, “There were moments when it became too much. West Ham at home with Arsenal I couldn’t come out in the second half. It was a chipping effect over the years. I suddenly couldn’t face it.”
The irony is, Campbell is one of the most outspoken players of his generation, had the rumours been true he would have been one of the first to come out and stand tall. But the tabloid press wasn’t going to let the truth get in the way of a story, even if it meant the well-being of a top England international was going to be damaged.
In the end they did run a story, omitting all names, only referencing the person in question as a current Arsenal and England defender. This led to Ashley Cole taking the heat. Something he put to bed when he married Cheryl Tweedy.
It was another example of sexuality being used as a negative. There shouldn’t have been a story to print. It isn’t in the public’s interest and doesn’t affect how a player performs for his club. How it’s used as a shaming tactic is disgusting in this supposedly enlightened age.
It was only a few months ago the Daily Mail (them again) reported that before the start of next season two Premier League players would come out as gay. Once more, an absolute no-news story, reported for the shock and shame value. Of course any player in the closet will expect some chants from rival fans but most of this will be more like pantomime and banter than anything close to hatred. It’s only papers such as the Daily Mailthat try and spread that.
Players should also have zero concerns about teammates making life difficult. They are protected by laws and men in other male dominated sports, such as British-born NBA basketballer John Amaechi, and Welsh Rugby star Gareth Thomas, have had no trouble since coming out.
The Ronaldo article shouldn’t have asked if he was gay, but simply: Who cares what he does in private with a consenting adult.