TWO seasons ago Leicester were battling their way out of the Championship, fulfilling their evergreen role of fighting for promotion or wrestling relegation. Only last February the Foxes were favourites to sink back down into the second tier until a last minute revival spared them and ushered in the blindingly successful reign of Claudio Ranieri.
The veteran tactician and wicked humorist, who has managed 10 Italian clubs throughout his distinguished career, was on board a flight returning from Rome, where he had taken his 94-year-old mother out for lunch, when he heard the news that his new club had won the Premier League title for the first time in history.
Tottenham’s late collapse against Chelsea, in an enthralling 2-2 draw condemned to be forgotten, meant that Raneiri’s dogged players had achievable the unthinkable – in the sense of being 5,000-1 underdogs – and securing a victory certain to go down in sporting legend.
Much has been made of the magnitude of this victory, and for good reason. Leicester City, a team which has spent less money in its entire 132 year history on players than fifth-placed Manchester United have in two seasons, weren’t the recipients of a lucky fluke, they dominated.
Only three months in the odds were slashed on an absurdist Leicester victory as they strode to the top of the table. At that time the media focus was on champions Chelsea’s spectacular collapse and Leicester’s odd positioning was a seasonal quirk. The odds became 1000-1.
At Christmas, Match of the Day and former Foxes striker, Gary Lineker, who also helped rescue the club when it was almost liquidated in 2002, promised to front the programme in his boxers live on television if his beloved team continued their lead.
The only other clubs to have won the title immediately after being promoted are Ipswich in 1962, and Nottingham Forest under the legendary Brian Clough in 1978.
It is safe to say that Leicester’s victory is far more symbolic and impressive than either of English football’s biggest surprise packages given the radical reshaping of the league’s finances since the 1990’s.
Amid remarkable scenes Ranieri’s men won the league at Stamford Bridge, the ground of the former champions Chelsea, who have spent billions on a decade long plot for world domination, as fans of the London club wildly cheered Leicester’s name.
With their two star players, Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, fast on the road to nowhere just a few years ago, Leicester’s triumph has become a symbol of hard work, team play, and outrageously wanton joy in playing the beautiful game.
It stands in glorious opposition to the lackadaisical attitude shown all to often by multimillionaire super-talents with pre-madonna attitudes, huckster agents and delicate egos, who have ruined the game for many fans.
Whether Leicester’s masterful performance over the course of 36 increasingly exceptional games will prove merely to be the exception that proves the rule is the key question that won’t matter a jot to their jubilant supporters today.