sbcltr tracks the amazing journey of Leicester City that have won the football English Premier League in a victory that has been described as a “fairytale” and “the most unlikely triumph in the history of team sport”
Last summer, William Hill, a British betting group, put the odds of the Leicester team winning the title as 5,000-1. To be fair, this seemed like a realistic bet at the time. Not only did the team have a poor season, but they were struggling for a mid-place table in the Premier League. One could see them work hard in the lower leagues, where they wound up often, more often than they’d like. To do the math, the team had .0002 chance of winning the title of being the best team out of the twenty competing. Nobody thought they could win except for the twenty-five people who bet on them a small total of $243.
Of course then, this has to be the biggest upsets in modern sports history. When West Indies won the T20 World Cup earlier this year, something similar was at play. But unlike Leicester City or Foxes, they had more people rooting for them. Leicester’s win also means that William Hall will now pay out on a 5,000-1 shot for the first time. About $4.4 million to its bettors.
So how could the whole world go so wrong?
The answer lies in the poor history of the club. In 2003-2004, Leicester City finished 18th place and was relegated to the Championship, the second division of English football. A position they struggled to retain. In 2007-08, they sank even lower to League One, the third division of English Football. They climbed out of that mess in the first attempt the following season. Only to struggle to make it back into the Premier League and they almost did, but then lost to Watford to secure a position in the playoffs for a promotion.
In 2013-14, after a decade long struggle, they finally secured an automatic promotion to the Premier League. The most notable moment came for them after their 5-3 win over the extremely popular Manchester United. But soon again, they were at the bottom. With just nine matches left to play, it seemed certain Leicester would be making their way back into Championship. They surprised everyone by winning 7 of their last 9 matches and retained their position. Finishing safely in the 14th place.
All seemed good with Leicester City until a scandal broke out.
A sex tape of three players having an orgy in a Thailand hotel room was leaked. What incriminated the players more than the sex part of it, were the racial slurs that they shouted, including calling the woman “slit eye.” One of the players involved, was the son of their manager Nigel Pearson. Pearson and the three players were let go and Claudio Ranieri took charge of the team.
Ranieri, who had not managed a Premier League since Chelsea in 2004 was hardly an impressive change. He had left Chelsea a decade earlier at the behest of the new billionaire investor Roman Abramovich, who thought he wasn’t glamorous enough and brought in Jose Mourinho instead. Ever since then, Ranieri had a bit of both worlds, success with Italian teams, as well as public disgrace. Like his stint with Greece that left him red faced after his team lost to Faroe Islands. It was not looking good for Leicester. Both 64-year-old Ranieri and the team had a similar career trajectory. They were struggling to prove themselves. It did not help that their team was made up of mostly unknown players and a few names from the bigger clubs that had been replaced for not being good enough. For example Robert Huth and Danny Simpson from Chelsea and Manchester United. Their most expensive signing last August was N’Golo Kante, the 24-year-old was brought from Caen on a four-year contract at an undisclosed fee. It was for these reasons that everyone bet on their relegation the coming season. (2015-16)
But they were wrong.
Leicester had a 4-2 win over Sunderland in their first match and were undefeated for six matches (the only team in the history of Premier League to do so), until Arsenal ended their hot streak. But they seemed determined. Playing a strong game, with devastating counter-attacks and organisation that seemed to show how well each player knew his job. Their new players, N’Golo Kante and Riyad Mahrez pulled off excellent performances. But it was Jamie Vardy that stole the show and was on the verge of becoming a record breaker.
Vardy’s story too is the story of the underdog.
Released from the youth academy of Sheffield Wednesday, a Championship team, for not being good enough, Vardy, sixteen at the time, still dreamed of being a professional football player. He toiled for his dream by playing semi-professionally for a club that was in the seventh tier of football hierarchy. He spent seven years there. Working twelve hour shifts at a factory to support himself and playing on the weekends, for as little as £30 a match. He made his way to the top, one tier at a time. First being signed by Halifax Town in the sixth tier. He then moved to Fleetwood Town in the fifth tier where he was the top scorer and helped his team win promotion. It was his time there that got him a call from Leicester in 2012. At the age of 25, nine-years after people had told him his dream was over, he was finally a pro.
Although his first season was poor, he redeemed himself in 2013-14, when his 16 goals helped Leicester get back into the Premier League. In the next season, he was the reason Leicester beat Manchester United. Not only did he score one goal, he also set up the other four in that legendary 5-3 win. Vardy got to a roaring start in the 2015-16 when he scored in the first match of the season. For the next two games, he scored nothing. In the fourth match, he did it again and after that, there was no stopping him. By the twelfth match of the season, Vardy had scored in nine games straight. He was now the top goal scorer in the world’s most competitive football league. And he did it, while he was nursing a broken wrist. The record for goals scored in consecutive matches was set by the Manchester United legend Ruud Van Nistelrooy. Vardy had matched it.
By 2015 end Leicester had already made history by becoming the only team to move from being at the bottom of the league in one season, to be top of the league the next. Ranieri too got his revenge, and a chance to redeem himself when Leicester won against Chelsea in December last year. In a quirky case of karmic retribution, Jose Mourinho, the manager that was brought in a decade earlier to replace the unfashionable Ranieri was fired soon after.
Still, people thought this to be nothing but a stroke of luck for Leicester. The public perception so far was that, at some point the underdogs would start to feel the pressure and fall apart. And most thought this would be when they faced the popular Manchester City, another underdog club that had seen better days in the 1960s, until a Sheikh from Abu Dhabi bought it and turned it into one of the richest teams in the world. The overnight wealth, bought in expensive, talented players, that finally gave them success in 2012 and then again in 2014. But to truly understand the David, Goliath situation here, one must get into numbers and resources available to each team. Leicester’s starting line-up cost a grand total of £22.5 million. While Manchester City bought a player for a whopping £49 million. So on one hand, you had expensive talent and on the other, a poor team running on grit. Manchester City’s one player literally cost two times more than the entire Leicester team. This was enough pressure to put the most seasoned players under stress.
But Leicester was terrifyingly good. Repeatedly tearing Manchester City to pieces on their home turf, in front of their own fans. They scored in less than three minutes and there was no looking back. They were now the favourites to take on the whole championship. The only real threat that stood between them and the championship was Arsenal, one of the only two teams to have beaten them (the other is Liverpool).
The thing about Premiere League and what makes this win special is the fact that only consistency can make you champion. Teams get 3 points for a win, 1 for a draw and 0 for a loss. Only the team with the most points at the end of the season can win. There is no luck involved and it isn’t considered unusual for a weak team to get off to a good start and then lose face along the way. In fact, it is more than common and everyone was expecting the same fate for Leicester.
Leicester won their next match against Southampton and it was no longer a surprise. They were now 7 points ahead of Spurs with only six games to go. One week later, they won against Sunderland with a 2-0, making it six clean sheets in seven matches. At West Ham, they had a dramatic moment when referee John Moss sent off Vardy in the first half, but then, he also gave them a penalty kick that kind of made up for Vardy being let off. Trouble wasn’t over for Vardy just yet, as he was told to sit out the next match and got an additional one game suspension for his tirade against Moss, who said he was guilty of diving. Without Vardy, the team still roasted Swansea City and moved closer to the spot of title champions. A victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford would clinch the trophy for them and by the looks of it Vardy would have to sit out and watch.
But they missed a chance when they tied 1-1 to Manchester United on May 1. Twenty-four hours later, Chelsea fought back to tie Tottenham, 2-2. Leicester led Spurs in the standings by 7 points with two matches to go. After years of struggle, they were definitely winning the title.
This win was sportsmanship at its finest simply because The Premiere League runs openly on money, the stakes are always high and is therefore purely capitalist in nature. So naturally, the teams that finish poorly never get to pick young athletes of caliber. Therefore, more often than not, it is the same teams that finish in the top four. For thirty-eight years straight, there has been no new winner. Leicester has broken the record and the only way they got here was through hard-work, persistence and sheer determination to prove themselves. Until now, no one extolled the virtues of Riyad Mahrez, (the player of the season) or talked about Vardy breaking records, or Wes Morgan being one of the best defenders in the league, or Kaspar Schmeichel, one of the finest goalkeepers or the fact that 64-year-old Ranieri who could take a team to championship. This is what good stories are made of. This is why people watch sports. Anything is possible and sometimes, dreams do come true.