Liv­ing Le­ices­ter’s dream

Jamaica Gleaner - - SPORTS - Hu­bert Lawrence has made notes at track­side since 1980.

WHEN LE­ICES­TER City won the English Premier League ti­tle last sea­son, fans of big-name clubs groaned. Now the groans are louder. Though Le­ices­ter are strug­gling to de­fend their league ti­tle, the team cap­tained by Ja­maican Wes Mor­gan has safely emerged from the first round of the UEFA Cham­pi­ons League.

Fans would use the ‘min­nows’ la­bel to de­scribe the cur­rent cham­pi­ons of Eng­land. Mor­gan’s team barely es­caped rel­e­ga­tion from the Premiership at the end of the 2014-2015 sea­son. Twelve months later, these new Blues were cham­pi­ons.

Now, Mor­gan and his team­mates are writ­ing an­other bril­liant chap­ter in the club’s history. Early in the Cham­pi­ons League cam­paign, Le­ices­ter City be­came the only English club to win their first three matches in the flag­ship of Euro­pean com­pe­ti­tion. That’s stag­ger­ing given the success other English teams have had in Europe in the past.

With a 2-1 win over Club Brugge early this week, Le­ices­ter City have qual­i­fied for the knock-out stage with a game to spare.

Dis­carded by Chelsea in 2004, coach Clau­dio Ranieri has or­gan­ised his Le­ices­ter City team so well that it has sur­vived a Jamie Vardy scor­ing drought to ad­vance. Pro­lific last sea­son with 24 strikes in the league, Vardy re­turned to the score­sheet with a div­ing header for Eng­land in a 2-2 day against Spain re­cently. If that break­through her­alds a new flood of goals for the 29-year-old, Le­ices­ter could be headed up­ward in the Premiership and on­ward in Europe.

That’s an aside. The real story is in­spir­ing for sporting hope­fuls ev­ery­where. It’s still re­mark­able that lit­tle Le­ices­ter City could out­play big-money out­fits like Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United in Eng­land. It’s even more re­mark­able that now foot­ball fans have to in­clude Le­ices­ter City in their list of teams al­ready through to the Cham­pi­ons League knock­out stage. That list in­cludes the starstud­ded Real Madrid ag­gre­ga­tion.

That’s no easy achieve­ment. Ask Tot­ten­ham Hot­spurs. Ham­strung by the in­juries suf­fered by their own pro­lific scorer Harry Kane, Spurs’ fans have seen their team shuf­fled out of the Cham­pi­ons League and into the sub­or­di­nate Europa League. For the record, that’s where Manchester United are also play­ing.

Liver­pool, the most suc­cess­ful English club of all time in the Cham­pi­ons League or the Euro­pean Cup, as it used to be known, didn’t qual­ify for Europe at all.

FANS CAN DREAM

No one is propos­ing that Le­ices­ter City will soon over­take Liver­pool’s record of five wins in Europe’s top club tour­na­ment, but fans of the Blues can dream. Crit­ics will say for­mer Euro­pean cham­pion Porto, Club Brugge and Copen­hagen, Le­ices­ter’s ri­vals in the first round group G, aren’t big teams. They can say that, but no one thought Mor­gan and com­pany would even be in the same stadium with them at this time last sea­son.

It’s a dream come true. Now, lit­tle teams and new­com­ers have Le­ices­ter as a model of hope. Success is pos­si­ble with­out su­per deep pock­ets. It is pos­si­ble if shrewd man­age­ment is matched by on-field de­sire.

It won’t hap­pen ev­ery­day. Af­ter all, there is some­thing to be said for tra­di­tion and fi­nan­cial clout, but Le­ices­ter nev­er­the­less over­came all of that to win the league last year and have con­tin­ued with a fine 2016 Euro­pean cam­paign. A year ago, no sports fan out­side of that English city would recog­nise Mor­gan, Vardy or mag­i­cal mid­fielder Riyad Mahrez if they met in the street. Should the good times keep com­ing for Le­ices­ter City on the field of play, some of them may even be­come house­hold names.

MOR­GAN

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