This week, Leicester City confirmed what has been looking inevitable for the last couple of weeks. That they are the undisputed champions of England, having won the Premier League, coming out the victors over the course of 38 games.
A quite extraordinary sporting feat, even when we compare it with other amazing stories. Greece winning the Euros, Porto winning back-to-back UEFA Cup and Champions League, Senegal and South Korea both exceeding expectations in different World Cups. Of course, outside of football there have also been incredible stories. But none, from my memory and in my lifetime at least, quite as incredible as what Leicester City have achieved. And that’s including Average Joe’s winning the Dodgeball competition against Globo-Gym, in “Dodgeball”…
So how did they do it? Here’s my take on the ingredients which came together to lead to Ranieri’s men (Ranieri, before the start of the season, was predicted by the pundits to be the first manager to be sacked!) achieving what no one really thought was possible (in no particular order):
A handful of standout players
Perhaps the obvious ones are Riyad Mahrez, winger extraordinare & PFA Player of the Year, and Jamie Vardy, who this season broke Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s impressive goals-in-consecutive games record, scoring in 10 matches against a row (and, of course, he broke this playing against United!), ran rings around defenders and was just a general nuisance by chasing down every ball. The last addition to the top 3 has to be N’Golo Kante, who at just 5”5 had unbelievable stamina, running up and down the pitch, and must have made the most interceptions and tackles in a season, ever. It’s fair to say, these 3 were the key men for Leicester, and they all had the season of their lives.
Despite “the big 3” mentioned above, there were many times this season when the team collectively put in a shift, and players had the games of their lives. Wes Morgan and Robert Huth in central defence weren’t only solid, but they scored crucial goals too. Drink water and Albrighton put in their fare share of performances, as did Okazaki and Ulloa (the latter of whom often came off the bench – and again, I recall scored a crucial later winner during the season run-in; the former of whom became “the main man” during Vardy’s two-match ban, and came up with the goods in the first game in which Vardy was missing).
There’s been a togetherness in the Leicester team squad that we’ve seen throughout the season. It was only fitting that they were all together to celebrate their winning the league after Tottenham’s 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge this week. (You must have seen that video by now?)
Stepping up to the plate during games at key times
From coming back late-on when 2-0 to Aston Villa, to getting a crucial 2-2 draw with West Ham just last week when they were down to 10-men, and that amazing 3-1 win at the Etihad, Leicester have got some key results against big teams, and pulled themselves together to fight back when the going got tough. Again, this only increased morale and team spirit, self-belief and confidence, and momentum.
Low down in the injury-table
I was already aware that Leicester had pretty much gone the season without any injuries, and this handy “injury table” that I found here confirmed that. Leonardo Ulloa (who wasn’t even a first-time starter) suffered a minor back injury picked up against Swansea…and that was pretty much it. This was crucial in keeping up momentum, and having first-choice players in their chosen positions. The fact that they only had the PL games to concentrate on, and so didn’t really require squad rotation, also helped. Bar some minor resting of the likes of Kante and Mahrez (understandable!), Ranieri wasn’t put out by injury troubles or concerns.
Claudio Ranieri is a seasoned manager and, as everyone says, a very nice man. He didn’t once let any pressure keep in, first saying they wanted to get 40 points, and then just concentrate on the next game and take their matches as they came. As they kept breaking these target, Ranieri next time for “top 4”, and it was only in the last 2-3 weeks that he really acknowledged the league title.
No egos – all in it together
There have been no “big superstars” (well, surely there are now?!) in the Leicester team, and so no one on ridiculous wages of a higher status to other players. Everyone kept down to earth, pulling together, and enjoying their football – intrinsically motivated and unspoiled by the ridiculous weekly wages seen at the likes of the top clubs in England and the rest of Europe.
In 32-year old Wes Morgan, Leicester had a captain who gave everything on the pitch, steered his team when they needed it, and even contributed with a couple of key goals of his own in the final few games leading to Leicester’s title win.
Well done Leicester City. What a story.