Leicester City leads the English Premier League by five points with seven matches still to play. The Foxes have defied the odds in a money-driven era to beat off their more fancied rivals. The Leicester story is so endearing considering that Chelsea and Manchester City have virtually unlimited spending power, yet are not in a position to challenge Claudio Ranieri’s side right now. Arsenal have all but surrendered their bid and it seems that Tottenham Hotspur is now the only realistic pretender to what would be City’s throne.
It is a magnificent Cinderella story. A tremendous fairy tale about to be realised, and every one from Manchester United fans to Liverpool supporters have adopted Ranieri’s troops as their “second side”. Okay maybe not Spurs or Gunners enthusiasts. But it is fair to say the midlands club has become the neutral’s favourite. Comparisons are being made to the 1994/95 story of Blackburn Rovers, another unfashionable club that beat the odds to lift the Premier League trophy. However the similarity ends there. Rovers were a different club in a different era and won in a very different scenario.
While it is true that Blackburn was a relatively new team in the division, they were actually runners-up the season before lifting the trophy. Leicester was in the relegation zone this time last year. Rovers were managed by Kenny Dalglish, a former top flight champion as a player and manager with Liverpool. Ranieri just does not possess the same kind of CV. With all due respect to the Italian he has won back-to-back promotions in Italy with Cagliari, another promotion with Fiorentina as well as achieving the same feat with Monaco in France. Outside of that he has won cups and super cups in Italy (Fiorentina) and Spain (Valencia). Moreover he was sacked as Greece manager after a Euro 2016 qualifying defeat to the Faroe Islands.
In 1991 steel magnate Jack Walker took over Blackburn Rovers Football Club. Dalglish was brought in and secured promotion to the top flight however unlike the Foxes, Rovers were very competitive thanks to spending £25 million (a small fortune in those days) on new players in the space of three years. The influx included sharp shooter Alan Shearer who signed for £3.3 million – a then British record, broken by the £5 million capture of Chris Sutton. City have not set such spending records since returning to the Premier League.
Dalglish’s side finished fourth in its first season in the top division, then second, then first. Their title-winning exploits could have been predicted. This is hardly the case with Leicester. Walker’s blank cheque approach propelled the Lancashire club to glory. With the Foxes it’s tactical nous, sheer guts and determination, and no doubt a stroke of luck here and there, but every one needs that. How many times did Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United not strike it lucky after the 90-minute mark?
The Leicestershire club has never won the league, making this potential victory all the sweeter. They have won the second-tier Championship on seven previous occasions and won the old Charity Shield in 1971. In fact since 1894, City have only spent 48 seasons in the highest division of English football.
Earlier we discussed some of Blackburn’s star signings. Dalglish’s squad was also made up of other big names like Tim Flowers, Colin Hendry, Jason Wilcox and Tim Sherwood, to name a few. Ranieri’s lot are mostly journeymen rejects from other clubs, who considered them surplus to requirements. And I write that with the utmost respect.
For example Kasper Schmeichel was let go by Manchester City after just eight appearances in four years. Schmeichel then spent time at Notts County and Leeds United before signing at the King Power Stadium in 2011. Danny Drinkwater did not make the cut at Manchester United. In three seasons he made zero first team appearances and was loaned out to Huddersfield Town, Cardiff City, Watford and Barnsley. They might wish he was still around right about now at Old Trafford.
After making 352 appearances for Nottingham Forest, Wes Morgan joined Leicester in 2012. Leading goal scorer Jamie Vardy spent the bulk of his career in the lower leagues. Marc Albrighton was let go by Aston Villa on a free – how much of a mistake that seems to be right now. Danny Simpson is another who was dumped by his Old Trafford masters before turning out for Newcastle United and Queens Park Rangers. How he has come of age. Riyad Mahrez, considered a gem of a find, came from French football where he was a squad player at Le Havre.
Robert Huth has enjoyed a more distinguished career but even so Chelsea was happy to part company with the German who went on to find employment at Middlesbrough and Stoke City. Shinji Okazaki came from the Bundesliga, as did Christian Fuchs who helped Schalke challenge in the league and also competed in the Uefa Champions League.
It seems all but certain that Fuchs will have to pass on advise to his team mates on how to do battle in Europe’s elite club competition next season. Leicester really are the “little club that could” and they are all set to win the English Premier League for the first time in their history. Ranieri has taken players who might have thought their careers were destined for mediocrity, or that their best days were behind them, and turned them into the best team in the land. Although it is not a done deal just yet, it is hard to see anyone stopping Leicester City from this point. Go the Foxes!