There have been many Cinderella stories in the history of sport, of underdogs doing the unthinkable and shocking the established order, but there hasn’t been a story quite like Leicester City – the English football club that went from just surviving to winning a championship in a space of a year.
Playing in the English Premier League where, like most European football leagues, money has come to dictate which teams remain in title contention, Leicester this week were confirmed as champions after their nearest rivals Tottenham Hotspur were no longer mathematically in contention with two weeks still left in the season.
Muhammed Ali beating George Foreman, Greece winning Euro 2004 and Boris Becker winning Wimbledon as an unseeded 17 year old are all feats that have captivated the sports world, but were comparatively likelier than what Leicester achieved – starting the season at 5000-1 odds to win the title, and having to perform over a 38-game tournament, during the course of which, as history has dictated, stronger teams eventually overcome inconsistency.
The Leicester story is even more incredible, considering they faced demotion to the Championship – England’s second tier of football – last season, lingering in the bottom three with four weeks left in the season. A spectacular rear guard saw them stay in the Premier League, and only just, for at least another season.
Fast forward one year, and at the same stage this season, Leicester were sitting at the other end of the table staring at the realistic possibility that they would win the converted league title. There was some element of fortune, as the stronger teams continued to be inconsistent, with last year’s champions Chelsea lingering in the middle of the points table, and teams like Manchester United, Manchester City and Arsenal all dropping points regularly. They would hold on, despite the doubters, who said even right up to the last half a dozen weeks that they would fall off.
What is also remarkable is that the club don’t have any star names – names that jump out when you look at the team sheet – but players like Riyad Mahrez, who won the Player of the Year award, Jamie Vardy, N’golo Kante, Danny Drinkwater and Robert Huth have seem this stock increase and no doubt have come under the greater scrutiny of bigger clubs.
Their Italian manager Claudio Ranieri, who was only appointed at the beginning of the season, claimed it would not be possible to replicate this success next season, and will face an uphill task to keep his players at the club. There is no doubt this success will live in the memory of Leicester and indeed in that of football fans around the world – proof that even the greatest odds can be overcome.