Last season the Leicester City Football Club, the Foxes were the feel good story of the year. Not the feel good story in sports for the year but for the world. Before the season the odds on their winning the English Premier League were set at 5000-1. The odds were better of Elvis being found to be living. They had just hired a veteran coach Claudio Ranieri and the immediate reaction was from about 95% of the experts was that it was a poor hire and he’d be the first manager fired during the 2015-16 season.
I am an American. I have followed sports for fifty years avidly. Until 2003 I had never been a soccer fan. In 2003 my wife and I went to England on vacation. That fall one evening I was turning the television stations and came across an English Premier League football match. There was nothing else on so I started watching. I was soon looking to see when the next televised match was. I started studying up on the teams and the sport. Going into it my knowledge of soccer wasn’t impressive. I knew the basic idea of it but I found it wasn’t that complicated. Since then I have watched more soccer matches than any other sport. So my basic point here is I didn’t grow up with soccer. Even 14 years later, I don’t feel like I am an ‘expert’ on the sport. I am sure since I got such a late start in following the game I will never feel like an ‘expert.” I am still learning things.
Back to the subject- the Leicester City Football Club- at the start of last season they were an after thought. Anyone who follows the sport knows that the Leicester City’s do not win championships. The teams that win the Championships- are the Manchester United’s, the Chelsea’s, Manchester City. The big clubs with the big money, who bring in the big name coaches and the big name players. The following is the list of champions since the Premier League formed in 1992. Up until 1992 the most storied team in English football was Liverpool. Liverpool is still a big team, they still spend big money but they still haven’t won a Premier League Championship- as you see not many teams have. [it is a 20 team league} The first 20 years of the league only four different teams had won- Manchester City’s 2 titles and last years Leicester City title are recent additions.
- Manchester United – 13 Titles
- Chelsea – 4 titles
- Arsenal – 3 titles
- Manchester City – 2 titles
- Blackburn Rovers – 1 title
- Leicester City – 1 title
Another admission- going into last season I wasn’t a Leicester City fan. I am a Liverpool fan but I watch whoever is playing. Early last year I noticed that the most exciting games seemed to be games in which Leicester City was playing. For the first couple months Leicester City games had the most goals scored in them. There are 38 games in the season, it goes from early August to mid-May. Leicester City’s early showing was a nice little story but in September or early October it was just that- a nice little story that you knew by Christmas would be long forgotten.
But an unexpected thing happened. Leicester City kept winning and by mid-November they were becoming a bigger and bigger story. Of course no one believed yet but it was becoming a more interesting story. They took over first place. In America their games were now being shown week in and week out on television. It became must-see television. It started to become what my week revolved around- the upcoming Foxes match.
This was in many ways a team of players who were rejects. Most of these players at some time in their career were not highly thought of, rejected by the bigger clubs, thought to be too small, not talented enough. Their highest scorer Jamie Vardy was a 29 year old who a few years earlier was playing in the lowly Conference Premier League for Fleetwood Town. All the sudden he was the leading goal scorer in the league and scored goals in eleven straight games a league record. This is fairy tail stuff. He would end up scoring 24 goals in 36 league games.
Riyad Mahrez was another key player- he would go on to be Player of the Year. Leicester City had gotten him in 2013 from Ligue 2 in France. Ligue 2 was just what it means- 2- not the top league in France but the second league down. When Leicester City signed him he was considered too small to survive in English football- another player on the Leicester City team who was a reject who not many believed in.
Goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel is the son of legendary Manchester United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel. Kasper started his career with Manchester United but they decided he didn’t have what it takes and moved him along to smaller clubs. Another player who was told he wasn’t good enough.
The point I am making is this was a team of players who had been told they didn’t measure up. But something remarkable was happening on the pitch.
The thing is in watching this drama unfold last year it wasn’t luck. Most of the matches Leicester was the best team. They out played and out hustled everyone else. They played together as a team. One thing that I would say was lucky for them last year is they 1- had few injuries. They were pretty much putting the same line up out there every game and they had a few reserve players who played a lot and when they were playing there was no drop off. 2- early in the season they were out of the other cup competitions. The big clubs were playing extra games outside of the Premier League whereas Leicester had an advantage -they had one game every week to worry about-the upcoming Premier League game.
But still, there was no way this Cinderella Story was going to keep going past mid-season. It wasn’t a one shot deal like say Buster Douglas one night knocking out Mike Tyson or one night where the US hockey team beat the mighty Soviets in the Miracle on Ice game. This was a 38 game schedule over a long season. Surely, Leicester City would come back to reality.
I’ve already gone over 1000 words on this, I will pick up the story in another post-starting with the game that made people believe- the game at Etihad Stadium the home of mighty Manchester City.