There was a moment during Leicester City’s unveiling as Premier League Champions at the King Power stadium following their victory against Everton. While players were taking turns to lift the trophy some of them had to literally drag a reluctant player from the background, thrust him with the trophy and make him lift it while all along he was blushing with the new found fame. It was N’Golo Kante, the midfield destroyer around whom most of team’s victories was scripted. Leicester City’s extra ordinary tale from bottom of the premier league to champions in a matter of a solitary year is filled with sub plots of such individuals who raised themselves from obscurity to one of the biggest titles that they could ever hope to hold, English Premier League Winners. But it all begins with a manager, the perineal bridesmaid who has finally become the bride.
Claudio Ranieri finally has that league trophy that has eluded him in all of the 26 years that he thrust himself in managing a football club. He is to the premier league what Goran Ivanisevic was for Wimbledon. When Ranieri was announced as Leicester Manager at the beginning of the season following the controversial yet successful Nigel Pearson, there were a lot of eye brows raised in doubt which included yours truly. Despite managing some big clubs has been always identified as a cup winner than a league winner. But why would they turn to a man who had failed so badly in his previous assignment in Greece? There was a sense of Leicester simply trying to stay afloat in the league or they just did not have many choices. Lest we know that they were making a coup very similar to the ones they pulled off in bringing in the likes of Riyad Mahrez and N’Golo Kante. And how well has he done! He turned a team of mostly second choices and discards into a fearless well-knit unit where everybody knew what they were doing and played for each other than for themselves. I guess this is what he had always wanted. Not a top team of glorious individuals but a team that he could mould. Reminds us a bit of Valencia and Rafa Benitez doesn’t it? And how in the world did he make 4-4-2 relevant again? All it took was a compact back four and Kante with excellent support act from Danny Drinkwater. Finally, a good old fashioned English football. It helped that the foxes barely played more than a game a week for most part of the campaign. But so did Liverpool in the title chasing 2013-14 season. We all know how that ended! Brendan Rodgers first fell under the Chelsea bus and tried to close an outrageous 12 goal gap with Manchester City with two games to spare. Ranieri simply chose to play the opponent by their merit. Experience do counts.
Perhaps nobody epitomises the fearless spirit of the foxes than their poster boy, Jamie Vardy. From the interviews he gave to college students as a non-league player to being mentioned in awe by the likes of Gary Linaker is no mean feat. His searing pace, finishing ability and that touch of audacity while leading the line for Leicester made him the face of Leicester city and rightfully so. But none of this would have happened without the outstanding Riyad Mahrez who deservedly won the PFA player of the year. His trickery and skill has been the real difference to the Midland club’s rise to the pinnacle of English Football. Despite all their creative ability, the foxes’ fans owe a lot to their two colossal central defenders in captain Wes Morgan and Robert Huth who put their bodies on their line week in and week out while also coming up with the occasional but all important goals. Leicester City was relentless throughout the season but the key to that was staying injury free (which they did) and Ranieri’s vision to play a game on its merit and give enough respect to the opposition but at the same time closing the games out when it is done and dusted. No extravagance and focus only on crossing the line game after game. At the same time, it did not look like Chelsea’s parking the bus trick.
The real question however will rise now. Will Leicester City be able to maintain this? Purely on gut instinct I feel that they will most likely finish outside the top four next season. Will they be able to do well in the champions league? If they get out of their group, it will be a miracle. But there is no doubt that they will enjoy their football and their fearless attitude will give them new fans but Ranieri for all his experience will know that it will be tough for them in Europe. Are we in for more surprises from the Tinker man and his fearless foxes? Because on face value any European standard forward will shred both Morgan and Huth to pieces and if they get out in group stages, then a long journey in the Europa league awaits. They won the league by fielding fewer players than any other team. Will they be able to sustain the pressure of playing in four tournaments and 60 games a year? Will Claudio Ranieri and Leicester City do a Nigel Clough and Nottingham Forest?
Their first step will be in tying their star players to long term contracts and secondly in bringing quality backups. The scouting team that spotted the likes of Vardy, Mahrez and Kante will have do overtime to bring in new players of such promise. There are a million questions but now is not the time to answer them. Now is a time to celebrate one of the greatest sporting triumphs of all time. A reinstating of the belief that it’s not always about money and that hard work, focus and dedication still has relevance in modern day success stories. This is not a fairy tale. This is a tale of one team unwilling to give up and ready to fight like their lives were dependent on it. Leicester City and Claudio Ranieri has done it. The team did not bully their opponents nor did their manager played mind games with other managers and players. They just played good football. And for that we thank you.