“Oh no! Not another Leicester article,” I hear you say.
I promise not to recap their season blow for blow (well…maybe a little) but as the dust begins to settle on the accomplishment of Leicester City Football Club, let’s look back at the stories which unfolded on the third of May, 2016.
They were fascinating, the kind of drama that only sport can deliver.
Until that day, Leicester and Tottenham had resembled two boxers throwing their final punches towards the end of a 12-round bout, with the Foxes’ shots starting to sting a bit more until Spurs gave themselves an uppercut against the Blues.
Wearily greeting the day, I flicked on the box with 75 minutes of the Spurs versus Chelsea game elapsed and realised I had chosen the wrong game to deprive me of my sleep.
Two nights previously, fellow Roarer apaway and I had stayed up for the Leicester versus Manchester United game to see if they could clinch the title at the home ground of the most successful club in EPL history.
Alas, it was not to be for the Foxes that evening, but that draw only added to the intrigue of the ensuing games.
Thus, the story was set up nicely for the all-London clash as Claudio Ranieri was relying on a team he used to manage – Chelsea – to help him grab the trophy which had eluded him while in south-west London.
Like most Chelsea managers during the latter years of Ken Bates’ ownership and the years of the Abramovich reign, Ranieri was afforded a big budget to spend on quality players. The likes of Emmanuel Petit, Frank Lampard, Juan Sebastian Veron and Hernan Crespo were brought in to capture trophies, but he never quite got there, his best coming in 2003/2004 when the Blues were runners-up to the mighty Arsenal team.
And yet, here he was, waiting for that same club, still with the same big spending mentality who flicked him twelve years earlier, to help his team made up of journeymen and freshly unearthed talent put together on a shoestring budget to win the Barclays Premier League.
Even before taking over at the midlands club, Ranieri had managed some of the biggest sides in football, especially in Italy. AC Milan, Juventus and Inter Milan are all clubs with big expectations every year yet here he was on the brink of his maiden first division title with little old Leicester.
Spurs started the game well and many would have thought that another week was required to find out who would take the trophy. However in the 84th minute, last year’s player of the season, who, let’s be frank, has had a stinker of a follow-up campaign, produced a stunning strike to sink the north London club.
A 2014-15 version of Eden Hazard picked the ball up around the half-way line and glided past a handful of Tottenham defenders, playing the ball into the feet of the much-maligned Diego Costa. The return pass to the Belgian sat up perfectly for him to produce a sublime, unstoppable strike into the top right corner, leaving Spurs fans thinking, “why did he have to wait a whole season to do this?”
So cool under pressure for the whole season, Spurs lost the plot in the final 15 minutes or so with horrible, mistimed tackles flying in everywhere. They were flustered while chants of “there’s only Ranieri” echoed around the ground.
One cannot help but feel that, if they had not let the moment get to them from the time Hazard scored until the seventh minute of injury time, I wouldn’t be typing this article.
And so, Mark Schwarzer receives his second league title medal in back to back years when he would have least expected it at the end of his glittering career. Not a bad way to see out his impending retirement.
The final game of the year will see Leicester take on Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, and the two sets of fans will undoubtedly rejoice together. The chanting from the terraces will be deafening for the likeable man who lead them both.
The irony of it all!
It was also the day that we found out the Parramatta Eels punishment for their rort of the NRL salary cap. With tongue firmly planted in cheek, maybe the future Eels board should watch every game of Leicester City’s this past EPL year to get a few tips on how a team, who was 5000-1 to win the league at the start of the season, can get the best out of its players.
To think that Riyad Mahrez was purchased from Le Havre for £350,000 and Manchester City bought Raheem sterling from Liverpool for 157 times that amount is staggering. Hindsight is a beautiful thing but so much more beautiful in this case.
The lessons learnt from this team will reverberate around the sporting world for many years to come. There are a handful of moments in sporting history where such underdogs triumph over their big brothers, but to do it in today’s day and age over a 38-game season is so much more remarkable.
Some might say this journey started last year under Nigel Pearson, when the team went on a great run to survive the drop down to the quagmire that is the championship. The majority of the squad went through that arduous task which no doubt helped fuel that fighting spirit for this season.
By adding a bit of Italian spice in the managerial department, the time has come for Leicester fans to say arriverdici to relegation and salve to Europe!