Le­ices­ter change land­scape as cash flood looms

Lesotho Times - - Sport -

LON­DON — The Premier League sea­son’s defin­ing quirk was that with a vast tide of tele­vi­sion money set to flood Eng­land’s top flight, Le­ices­ter City’s tri­umph showed that wealth isn’t ev­ery­thing. While Manch­ester City and Manch­ester United’s squads cost a com­bined es­ti­mated to­tal of £800m, Le­ices­ter’s ti­tle-win­ning squad barely ex­ceeded the £50m mark. In the con­text of the £5.14 bil­lion tele­vi­sion deal due to kick in next sea­son, their fairy­tale 5,000-1 suc­cess sug­gested that it is no longer about how much money you spend, but how you spend it. “I’ve grown up al­ways be­liev­ing the big clubs, with the most money, win,” said Jamie Red­knapp, the for­mer Liver­pool mid­fielder turned TV pun­dit. “Even Black­burn, when they won the ti­tle (in 1995), spent a lot of money and had the best play­ers. This is like no other.” While the feats of Jamie Vardy (£1m), Riyad Mahrez (£400,000) and N’golo Kante (£5.6m) demon­strated a new way of spend­ing, Le­ices­ter’s foot­ball re­vealed a dif­fer­ent way of win­ning.

In an age when many teams con­tinue to wor­ship at the al­tar of ‘tiki-taka’, Clau­dio Ranieri’s welldrilled, hard-run­ning side av­er­aged 44.8 per­cent of pos­ses­sion - the third-low­est in the league - and had a pass com­ple­tion rate of 70.5% - the league’s sec­ond-low­est.

With Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur, an­other high-in­ten­sity team, chal­leng­ing for the ti­tle un­der the in­spi­ra­tional Mauri­cio Po­chet­tino, Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion chair­man Greg Dyke was moved to ex­claim: “The old or­der has bro­ken.”

The Pro­fes­sional Foot­ballers’ As­so­ci­a­tion Team of the Year told its own story, with Le­ices­ter and Tot­ten­ham con­tribut­ing four play­ers each.

Ex­cept­ing Harry Kane, the di­vi­sion’s 25-goal top scorer, who came through Tot­ten­ham’s youth sys­tem, all were signed for fees dwarfed by the £49m that City spent on Raheem Ster­ling.

West Ham United’s Dim­itri Payet, an­other Team of the Year in­clu­sion, was a rel­a­tive snip at £10.7m.

The French play­maker in­spired Slaven Bilic’s side to sev­enth place.

The big clubs met with fail­ure of vary­ing stripes.

De­spite hav­ing in­vested some £250m in new play­ers, Louis van Gaal over­saw a sea­son of grim stag­na­tion at Manch­ester United, who are ef­fec­tively guar­an­teed to miss out on a Cham­pi­ons League place for the sec­ond time in three years.

Frus­trated at United’s fee­ble, side­ways foot­ball - the an­tithe­sis of Le­ices­ter’s ap­proach - fans have grown in­creas­ingly vo­cal in their crit­i­cisms of the de­fi­ant Dutch­man, for whom vic­tory over Crys­tal Palace in next week­end’s FA Cup fi­nal may not be enough to keep him in a job.

Jose Mour­inho has been hov­er­ing in an­tic­i­pa­tion of the Old Traf­ford axe fall­ing ever since his dis­missal by Chelsea in De­cem­ber.

Worn down by Mour­inho, the de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons col­lapsed com­pletely, but Guus Hid­dink stead­ied the ship and with Italy coach An­to­nio Conte ar­riv­ing af­ter Euro 2016, a new fu­ture is tak­ing shape.

There is im­mense an­tic­i­pa­tion, mean­while, at City, where Pep Guardi­ola will re­place Manuel Pel­le­grini fol­low­ing a sea­son of dam­ag­ing in­con­sis­tency that nonethe­less yielded the League Cup and a first Cham­pi­ons League semi­fi­nal ap­pear­ance.

Liver­pool have al­ready been re­vi­talised by a new man­ager and de­spite an eighth-place fin­ish, the club’s en­gross­ing run to the Europa League fi­nal has hinted at the thrills that may lie ahead un­der Jur­gen Klopp.

At Ar­se­nal, Arsene Wenger sol­diers on to­wards the 20th an­niver­sary of his ap­point­ment.

He has, cus­tom­ar­ily, de­liv­ered an­other sea­son of Cham­pi­ons League foot­ball - the 19th in suc­ces­sion - but with Ar­se­nal hav­ing spec­tac­u­larly failed to ex­ploit their ri­vals’ strug­gles, fan dis­sent to­wards the French­man has been louder than ever.

Em­bold­ened by their TV gains, the heavy­weights can be ex­pected to flex their mus­cles in the clos­esea­son trans­fer win­dow and for­mer Le­ices­ter man­ager Martin O’neill be­lieves that they will all come back stronger.

“Maybe it’s a wake-up call,” he said. “I think the big teams might feel it was one year they slipped up and they might be­come very strong again. Money talks in this busi­ness.”

The di­vi­sion will lose two of its grand­est clubs as New­cas­tle United and As­ton Villa sink into the Cham­pi­onship along­side Nor­wich City, to be re­placed by Burn­ley, Mid­dles­brough and the play-off win­ners.

The TV deal means that Burn­ley and Boro could not have timed pro­mo­tion bet­ter, but as Le­ices­ter’s game-chang­ing suc­cess demon­strates, it is what you do with it that counts. — AFP

Le­ices­ter city and France mid­fielder N’golo kante.

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