I remember the moment very clearly. It was the last weekend in November and I was driving back from the races when I heard on the radio that Leicester City were leading the Premier League. Jamie Vardy had broken the record for scoring in consecutive matches and his team were top of the table. Suddenly, football seemed interesting. Leicester are now five points clear with four matches remaining, the last three against Manchester United, Everton and Chelsea.
The race is now on, not just for the title but for who will be the first to bring out a book on how they’ve done it. It’ll be the British equivalent of Moneyball, the book about Oakland Athletics trying to compete with the big- money teams in Major League Baseball.
Leicester are not even in the top 10 richest, biggest or most commercial clubs in the Premier League, but they have succeeded where the bigger clubs have failed. Claudio Ranieri, a man previously nicknamed ‘the Tinkerman’ for his constant changing of the Chelsea team, was seen as a risky appointment, but he now stands on the brink of one of the greatest achievements in football.
The beauty of his approach is in its simplicity, the traditional 4-4-2 formation and in the trust he places in his players. Ranieri gives them responsibility and challenges them all the time to find the desire in themselves. Where other teams are training harder and harder, Ranieri is sticking to his policy of giving his players a break. He gives them two days off a week because he thinks too many players get tired towards the end of the season. However, when they are on the pitch, he expects their full commitment.
‘I always tell my players to find the fire within themselves,’ he said earlier this season. ‘A chance like this will never come round again. Seek that fire, don’t be ashamed of it.’
Even if Vardy took that desire a little too far at the weekend, what sets them apart from other clubs who have threatened to upset the accepted order of things is that, with the winning line in sight, they haven’t faltered.
Every sports fan loves an upset, and in the history of the Premier League these 5,000-1 shots, who were fighting relegation this time last year, have to be the biggest underdogs of the lot. What a story, what a team and what a manager. All hail Leicester City.
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