The reality of the story of Leicester’s triumph is better than fiction and scripts a fairly tale story come true.
It is a wonderful narrative of the victory of determination, will power, a potent synergy of talent and an undaunted team spirit backed by the unstinted belief of Leicester’s supporters in their team
Leicester City Football Club’s triumph as the Premier League champion earlier in the week is such a welcome breath of fresh air. We desperately yearn for such uplifting achievements in a context of pervasive despondency affecting the world and our own country amidst unabated news of continuing wars, terrorist attacks, the enduring financial crisis, calamities, distress of people and rampant poor governance from Brazil to South Africa.
Leicester’s stunning success carries so many positive messages. It is the unlikely win of the underdog, the victory of a club which went into administration in 2002 and was sold to a Thai consortium in 2010 over the financial might of oligarchs, Gulf or American magnates owning rival teams. It is the primacy of enormous collective talent and a fearless team spirit over costly football stars studded teams. Leicester’s success is an unrivalled sporting and human feat which has caught global attention and connected with and inspired people across the world.
The 5000-1 outsiders to win the title at the start of the season have, against all odds, realized the impossible dream of becoming the champion of one of the toughest top football leagues in the world after battling it through a gruelling schedule of 38 games against the 19 other teams of the English Premier League. Leicester outperformed the best Premier League teams such as Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal or Chelsea which had monopolized the top spots of the Premier League for decades and resolutely shook off its closest challengers Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal or Manchester City in the season. They thus became the Premier League champions for the first time in their 132 year history as a football club.
This feat is the more outstanding because Leicester which was promoted to the Premier League in the 2014-15 season avoided relegation by the skin of their teeth at the end of that season. A team coach that had been sacked in five of his previous jobs, a shoe string player buying budget of some £23 million which is less than the transfer price of a single star player paid by the big cash rich Premier League teams and the purchase of unknown players or players nobody wanted had scripted another staid performance in the 2015-16 Premier League season.
However, as the season progressed, Leicester quickly grabbed the top ranks of the Premier League table. From their worst 6th position in the table at the end of September 2015, they emerged with a series of wins and a few draws to hold the first position in mid-January to never let it go till their triumphant win of the Premier League this week. For all lovers of football across the world, it was a remarkable performance generating admiration and magic moments of delight among the aficionados week in week out. Early in the season, Leicester became the buzz word and was on every football fan’s radar as they tracked their unflinching pursuit of glory.
Leicester thus confidently took on the biggest teams in English Premier League football. With only two matches remaining, Leicester, in a singular achievement, has lost only three games in the whole season against Arsenal and Liverpool. The reality of the story of Leicester’s triumph is better than fiction and scripts a fairly tale story come true. It is a wonderful narrative of the victory of determination, will power, a potent synergy of talent and an undaunted team spirit backed by the unstinted belief of Leicester’s supporters in their team. The most unlikely dream can come true. It is reported that Leicester fans putting their money where their heart is reaped £25 million as winnings from the bookies in one of the biggest payouts in British sporting history pursuant to such a major sporting upset. In the words of the England striker, Gary Lineker, his hometown team has acquired ‘sporting immortality’. This is one of the greatest sporting stories of all times which it will be difficult to replicate.
The outstanding success of Leicester is the result of a combination of exceptional factors. Shrewd management by the Leicester coach Claudio Ranieri gelled a squad of a mere 24 international players around 14 key players into a devastating roller coaster and a well-oiled winning machine. The team comprised a unique mix of inter alia English, Algerian, Danish, French, Jamaican, German, Austrian, Japanese, Ghanaian, Welsh and Argentinean players. Ranieri harnessed the individual talent of his players and forged them through his coaching acumen into a cohesive entity and a synergic team hungry to challenge the mightiest and mentally geared to get to the winning line. In order to manage and lift the pressure off his players, Ranieri periodically changed the goal post and intelligently dosed and hiked the level of ambition of his team in keeping with their stunning performance and ranking as the season progressed.
Leicester’s victory was also assisted by remarkable individual performances by its players. This helped sustain Leicester’s momentum to triumph in the Premier League. Striker Jaime Vardy who has a tally of 22 goals so far this season erased Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s record of scoring in 10 consecutive games by scoring 13 goals in 11 consecutive games. He was recently crowned Football writers’ Footballer of the year. Riyad Mahrez who was recruited in 2014 from French second division team Le Havre has scored 17 goals this season and was voted as PFA Player of the Year by his peers last week.
The sparkling individual talent of the various players such as striker Jaime Vardy, midfielders Riyad Mahrez and N’Golo Kante, defenders Wes Morgan and Robert Huth and goal keeper Kasper Schmeichel have been demonstrated every week. From relative anonymity, they and others in the team have become household names and have become football stars in their own right. This has considerably hiked their and the team’s standing and valuation in the market.
Victory of the underdog over the power of money
Recent decades have seen a rapid transformation of football from its seminal values of a fan and city based club into a billion £ business with the creation of the Premier League in 1992. Sports have become a highly lucrative business extending its reach far and wide to new sports. They now encompass very diverse sports from the cricket IPL (International Premier League) or the Pro Kabbadi League in India to the US NBA basketball League.
In football, tycoons from all over the world have acquired football teams as an investment vehicle. Their business model aims at buying some of the best players at ever escalating costs to try to get the best team to win the championship and participate in the lucrative Champions League.
Experience has shown that football competition is not as simple as that. The repeated setbacks suffered by cash rich football clubs such as Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) in the Champions League or Chelsea and Manchester City this year in their unsuccessful bid to win the Premier League is evidence of that. Leicester’s 2015-16 wage bill of £48.2 million ranks 17th in the 20 team Premier League and is about a fifth of that of Chelsea, the team with the highest wage bill. Chelsea currently ranks 9th in the Premier League.
The power of money does not therefore necessarily lead to forging an unbeatable team or instilling the nerve to withstand the pressure in the Premier League where basically every fixture against even the most modest team can turn out to be a tough challenge. However, in France the Qatari owned PSG has through its financial clout and an unprecedented buying spree of star players taken a dominant position in the French Ligue 1 winning the last four editions, hands down. This is neither good for the team nor for football. In England the spread of team wealth is more balanced among the top teams leading to the delight of football lovers, to a highly competitive and suspense packed Premier League.
Football is about passion, about the vibrant bond between the supporters and the players, about standing up with the team against thick and thin, about sharing joys of victory and overcoming setbacks, about loyalty, about roars of triumph and occasional coups de gueule, about emotions, about the team’s temperament and the team’s history and legacy. Manchester United’s temperament has been epitomized by the never-say-die spirit demonstrated in Fergie time and so often saving the day for Man U. The history and undeterred will of Liverpool is evidenced by its win over AC Milan in a penalty shoot-out in the 2005 Champions League final in Istanbul after being 3 goals down at half time. Without passion football would not be.
Leicester is now writing its own exceptional history. From underdogs they have become giant killers as they resolutely paved the way to their stunning triumph. More importantly, their highly acclaimed win has reminded football clubs and the tifosis across the world that, as has been evidenced so often in recent years, it is grit, unbridled collective talent of players, unwavering fan support and a combative team spirit and not the power of money that wins competitive championships. All this forms part of the seminal culture and intrinsic ethos of football which we must make sure Mamon does not whittle away.
* Published in print edition on 6 May 2016