Leicester owner’s legacy
YOU only have to look at the list of Premier League winners this century to begin to get an understanding of how miraculous it was that Leicester City did it.
Manchester United (eight times), Chelsea (five), Manchester City (three), Arsenal (two)… and the Foxes – just once but never to be forgotten.
At the start of the Millennium, Manchester United and Arsenal were dominating, but then Chelsea and Manchester City came into big money and put the old powerhouses under pressure.
Realistically, those four clubs, along with Liverpool and Tottenham, were seen as the only real contenders for the title. Indeed, if a club beginning with ‘L’ was going to win it, everyone would have assumed it would be Liverpool.
With the so-called ‘big six’ dominant in English football, it was no great surprise that unheralded Leicester City were 5,000-1 shots to win the Premier League in 2015-16.
Only die-hard Foxes fans would have put a tenner on it, and then more in blind hope than genuine belief.
The fact was that the Premier League had become boringly predictable. Okay, it wasn’t the old monopoly or duopoly of before, but you knew before the start that one of six teams were going to win it – and the other 14 were, to be brutally honest, just making up the numbers.
I remember thinking a few years ago that it was time to give the Premier League a major shake-up. Having lived in Chile for a few years, I had seen a radically different system.
There were two championship a years. There was a title winner after one whole round of fixtures, 17 games, and then another one later in the year.
It meant that smaller clubs had a better chance of competing with the big boys. Injuries, suspensions, squad strength wouldn’t be such big factors. With two titles in a year, there was always something to play for, there were far fewer dead rubbers in the latter part of the season when teams know they are out of contention.
If the same set-up was applied here, I reasoned, the likes of Stoke, Sunderland, Southampton… and Leicester would have a genuine chance of winning a league title. Get off to a good start, hit a purple patch and the league could be yours.
But then along came the Leicester vintage of 2015-16 to show that an unfancied team could compete over a whole season, keep their nerve at squeaky-bum time and walk away with the biggest prize in English domestic football.
Even when the Foxes were up there in the early part of the season and manager Claudio Ranieri was treating his squad to pizzas for keeping clean sheets, no-one – be honest – gave them a prayer of staying there.
Yet week in, week out, with a team greater than the sum of its parts, Leicester showed they could more than match the biggest clubs in the land. When the pressure was on, they delivered.
The likes of Kasper Schmeichel, skipper Wes Morgan, N’Golo Kante, Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy were on the top of their game.
In early February, Leicester beat Liverpool 2-0 at the King Power and then went to Manchester City and won 3-1.
People thought a 2-1 defeat at Arsenal might burst the bubble, but the wins just kept on coming until the unthinkable happened – the Foxes were crowned champions of England.
Of course, Ranieri and his players must take the bulk of the credit, but the impact of owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha shouldn’t be underestimated.
He took the reins in 2010 when Leicester were in the Championship and oversaw their promotion to the Premier League and, ultimately, the sensational title triumph.
Yes, the Thai billionaire pumped money in, but he didn’t just throw money at it and hope for the best. He built a club, earned the respect of the fans and invested in the community in both a personal and financial sense.
That he – and four others – were lost in that horrible helicopter crash shortly after take off from the King Power Stadium at the end of October is a terrible tragedy.
The outpouring of grief following his death showed just how much the people of Leicester cared about him. And football also owes him a debt of gratitude.
As goalkeeper Schmeichel said: “You changed football. Forever! You gave hope to everyone that the impossible was possible.”
Kings of England: Leicester celebrate their title success with an open-top bus ride