DREAM-MAKER

Late Tackle Football Magazine - - CONTENTS -

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

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