The meteoric rise of Leicester City

The meteoric rise of Leicester City

Sports season is on and the level of exhilaration and suspense is palpable. Be it the invincible IPL of India or the Formula 1 racing, nothing enthuses young and old alike like sports. With the biggest sporting extravaganza, Rio Olympics, poised to start in couple of months, sports enthusiasts are geared to relish extraordinary stories of grit, determination and intense toil. Meanwhile, the specta

Sports season is on and the level of exhilaration and suspense is palpable. Be it the invincible IPL of India or the Formula 1 racing, nothing enthuses young and old alike like sports. With the biggest sporting extravaganza, Rio Olympics, poised to start in couple of months, sports enthusiasts are geared to relish extraordinary stories of grit, determination and intense toil. Meanwhile, the spectacular success story of Leicester City created ripples in the football fraternity.

In 2014, Leicester City team was in the lower division of the English football, though they have gained promotion, no one gave them any chances and in 2015 they fought hard to avoid relegation and stay in the premier division. A year later, they scripted a fairy tale by winning the Premier League.

Their odds of winning according to bookies were 5000:1. Just to put that into perspective, the same betting website had odds of 2000:1 on Elvis Presley being alive and 1500:1 on humans finding alien life in the next few years; evidently they beat the odds to emerge champions in EPL

Described as “Fairy Tale Premier League Win”, the unusually taunt and avaricious football pundits are singing encomiums of Leicester City. Truly, the meteoric rise of the EPL club that was precariously hanging at the cusp of the relegation last year, surprised everyone with their meteoric rise. In fact the club gained entry into the premier league two years ago.

Leicester City’s phenomenal triumph is a story of underdogs humbling the high and mighty. The “Big Four”- Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal of English Premier League (EPL) largely dominated the game, receiving bountiful sponsorships.

With their franchise shops spread across the World, they reaped the unbounded love of football enthusiasts. Indeed even the biggest scramble for the prized Premier League rested with the Big Four. Since its institution in 1992, barring a rare instance of Blackburn Rovers winning the title in 1995, Premier League title was largely held by the quartet.

With the season coming to end this weekend, Leicester team assembled for £57 million, has convincingly mortified the top clubs. The amounts invested in building the clubs as per recent study is as follows: Tottenham (£159m), Arsenal (£231m), Liverpool (£260m), Chelsea (£280m), Manchester United (£395m) and Manchester City (£415m). Leicester is fourth lowest in payroll.

EPL is the most watched football league in the World and enjoys an unparalleled viewership. It has been largely observed that Champions tend to come from the top four of the previous season. Considering previous season’s performance of Leicester City, when it occupied 14th position out of 20 no one predicted this remarkable turnaround. Most believed that the club might soon be relegated and demoted to second tier of English clubs

In August 2015, English betting firm Ladbrokes offered 5000-1 odds on Leicester winning the league. Even otherwise, only thrice, since the World War II, had the teams promoted from the second tier went on to win the title-Tottenham Hotspurs in 1951, Ipswich Town in 1962 and Nottingham Forest in 1978. In 2008-9 Leicester was lying in the third tier English Football Pyramid, the League one, but went on to scale the pyramid remarkably faster.

The stupendous success of the team is all the more special in this modern era of football league since dollars are splurged on clubs. With a deluge of finances streaming through the top-notch clubs, the parity among clubs has become unbridgeable.

Statistics from the soccer enthusiasts indicated that from 1950 through 1980, teams rose for lower tier to top tier eight times and only twice from 1981 to 1995. Clearly indicating that modern day football unlike the yester years is quite different and dramatic.

Leicester’s phenomenal success is indeed very special as in contemporary times, steady rise of club in table is inextricably linked to the finances flushed into replenishing the team with high-order players. Increasingly, clubs supported by owners with deep pockets and frenzied passion might eventually make their way to the top.

Defying all the odds, Leicester, though not financially emaciated, scrupulously assembled committed, shrewd, and disciplined chunk of mature players. Having lost its best midfielder and with team manager just fired, Leicester made a new beginning last year by hiring Claudio Ranieri as a coach, who recently had a disastrous stint as in-charge of Greece national team.

Similar to proven success of the Money Ball (a saber metric approach for selection of players constrained by limited payroll, experimented and tried by the Oakland Athletics Manager Billy Beane), armed with hard working players from unproven leagues the team spurred into action (of course, there is no evidence of employing similar approach by Leicester City).

The EPL season which lasts for 38 matches from August to May every year, witnessed a steady and consistent performance from the players. With every week, the team began to operate as a functional unit and rose to the top four. Unlike the defensive style of playing, which more or less has become characteristic of EPL clubs, Leicester’s game was quite aggressive.

With Big Four stumbling and struggling to find their momentum and grappling to unplug the inconsistencies, Leicester breezed past them with heroic performances. Last year champions Chelsea suffered tumultuous set back with the team struggling to play together as a unit, Manchester United and Manchester City began with dispirited performances.

Experts attributed Leicester’s success to the lackadaisical performances of the top teams. Thus they consider Leicester’s unexpected rise as an anomaly. In reality, the stellar performance of the teams’ trio - English striker Jamie Vardy, Algerian winger Riyad Mahrez and French midfielder N’Golo Kante accomplished the unthinkable. Riyad Mahrez was awarded the coveted Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) Player of the Year award.

Simply put, it is a story of underdogs hoisting themselves to the pinnacle of accomplishment, unanticipated by football savants. The victory has another angle to it, for it is a source of great pride to South Asians. Leicester is owned by Thailand billionaire Vichai Srivaddanaprabha, who invested in it since its acquisition in 2010.

Leicester, a city in the Midlands of England, home to Asian migrants were overjoyed at the brilliant performance of its club. For several decades, the game was largely dominated by clubs from London and Lancashire while Midland teams fought hard to find their place in the League. With this title win, soon the stands would be dominated by the ethnic minorities supporting their team.

Leicester diligently managed finances and spent £36.6 million to build an incredibly strong team. Besides, Leicester employed innovative sports science, medical and coaching team. The team suffered fewest injuries as they coopted new techniques like use of cryotherapy ice chamber that made recovery easier.

For long, billions dollar worth English League was dominated by Europeans and Leicester’s triumph now has strengthened Asian association with the game. Despite its stellar success, Leicester may not be accorded the same status as the Big Fours. But clinching the title breaking past its incipient financial barriers is truly iconic.

While it may be even hard for Leicester to repeat its stint, the path tread, logistics chartered and the difficulties endured can be a true inspiration. Success wasn’t a matter of chance for Leicester. It was an outcome of outperforming the big teams in grueling games that spanned over nine months of the football season. Through its incredible display of grit and perseverance Leicester redefined operational logistics of a successful football team.

As several doctrines roll out deconstructing the secret formula for remarkable success- the spirited slogan of “foxes (Leicester) will never give up” alone might have steered the unheralded club to frontiers of accomplishment. With Rio Olympics all set to be inaugurated in its finest splendor in August, undaunted tales of determination, grit and hard work of exemplary sporting personalities would energize and reawaken our latent spirits. Till then, the spirited accomplishment of little-known English club will continue to inspire. For inspiration is contagious….

By:Ramaharitha Pusarla

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