“In an era when money counts for everything, we give hope to everybody.”
– Claudio Ranieri
It is a league where money speaks volumes. If you want to have the best players at your club then be ready to pay through the nose for them. You only need to take a look at the likes of Manchester City, with a squad value of over £400 million, to see how much money is being invested into biggest clubs in the Premier League. As a result, the assumption was increasingly being made that whoever spent the most would be the favourite to win the title.
For this reason, the achievement of Leicester City this season is the greatest in the history of the Premier League and potentially the sport in general. It is a rags to riches story that has captivated the world and the kind of achievement that happens once in a blue moon. With a team worth only a fraction of the usual suspects found heading up the league table, Leicester have worked their way into the hearts of millions.
Rewind two seasons and the magnitude of Leicester’s achievements becomes clear. In 2014, the Foxes secured promotion into the Premier League as champions. Last season, only a late run of results masterminded by Nigel Pearson saved them from relegation back to the Championship. Had you asked Leicester fans at the end of the 2014/15 season where they thought they would end up this season, I doubt many would have suggested the top half of the league table. Instead, they are on the brink of winning a top division title for the first time in their 132 year history.
So, what changed? There are no players that would have been described as “world-class” among their ranks and they consistently maintain low possession percentages, drawing their opposition forward. This being said, the side play week in week out with a self-belief unlike any other, a work rate you cannot fault and a killer edge on the counter attack.
One man who deserves as much credit as any for Leicester’s achievements is Claudio Ranieri. Following his appointment in 2015, the head coach made only a handful of changes to the Leicester team he inherited and instead has proven that you do not need to spend heavily to achieve success. Despite earning himself the nickname of “The Tinkerman” at previous clubs, Ranieri has clearly placed his faith in a set squad of Leicester players this year who he knows will perform for both him and themselves week after week. It is this consistency that has developed an understanding and team spirit unlike any other this season.
While the record-breaking Jamie Vardy and hugely talented Riyad Mahrez have received much of the attention this season, it has been the overall team performance that have seen them rise to the top. Kasper Schmeichel, Wes Morgan, Robert Huth, Danny Simpson, Christian Fuchs, N’Golo Kante, Danny Drinkwater, Marc Albrighton, Shinji Okazaki and their fellow team-mates have continuously put in heroic performances that have earned them the support of football fans around the globe.
After early feelings of disbelief as defending champions Chelsea faltered, Leicester fans are now nearly certain that they will triumph. “And now you’re gonna believe us, we’re gonna win the league” was the chant ringing out from the Leicester City fans in their recent 2-0 victory against Sunderland and many now believe them. The Foxes have been behind for only 47 minutes in the Premier League since the end of October- An impressive feat to say the least.
Leicester have lost only three times in the league this season: 5-2 at home to Arsenal in September, 1-0 away to Liverpool in December and 2-1 away to Arsenal in February. While Arsenal have had the better of them, the usual suspects Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City, Tottenham and Everton have failed to beat them thus far. It is certainly the form of champions and looks set to continue right until the end.
The cherry on top of the cake for Leicester will come on the final day of the season. If they are to secure the title over the next few weeks, Claudio Ranieri will return to Stamford Bridge as a Premier League champion. Having narrowly missed out on the title as Chelsea manager himself, it will be a moment to savour for the Italian.
With another year in the Premier League, the Champions League, FA Cup and League Cup all on the horizon for next season, Leicester have set a precedent for the future. They have restored a sense of belief that anything is possible, even if the odds of something happening like this again are slim. For now, however, their focus rightfully remains on securing the Premier League title. With millions willing them across the finish line, Leicester are already the people’s champions. Only time will tell to see if Leicester can go all the way and become the top team in English football.