Leicester City have come a long way to lead the Premier League table, but can they sustain this sort of success into the future?
For the unacquainted, Leicester was once a military outpost for the Romans during their occupation of Britain until 410 AD. Thereafter little is known of the town’s history other than it being the final resting place of King Richard III. Now that a Roman has returned however, the largest settlement in the East Midlands is about to create its own modern folklore.
If you are to believe the local historians, Robin Hood was actually born in Leicestershire. Certainly it would make some sense if Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester City side were to rob the spoils from under the noses of the Premier League’s rich and famous.
Although it is now the stuff of fairytale in itself, Ranieri was a bemusing choice when he arrived at the King Power Stadium last year. Nigel Pearson had just guided to club to safety in miraculous circumstances and enjoyed an exalted status until his son’s libido intervened. Ranieri, who had previously been sacked by Greece in the aftermath of a home loss to the Faroe Islands, was quickly bombarded with the slings and arrows of outrageous criticism.
In defending their choice, Leicester City officials cited Ranieri’s pedigree and list of former employers. But despite arriving at Chelsea in 2000 having carved out a formidable reputation at Cagliari, Fiorentina and Valencia, Ranieri’s reputation suffered after a doomed stint under Roman Abramovich was followed by abrupt departures at Parma, Juventus, AS Roma, Inter Milan and Monaco. His failure to guide the Greeks to Euro 2016 finally seemed to signal the end of a nomadic career.
When the tickets for Leicester City’s final home game of the season were released on Monday they sold out in less than 90 minutes. Touts have since sought over £8,000 for the Everton fixture. While the majority of season-ticket holders have been facilitated, the inevitable increase in demand has meant that many of those who have have been loyal to the club throughout their rise through the football league have been left disappointed. However, they remain adamant that they will not miss out next season.
In 1995, Blackburn Rovers claimed the English title for the first time since 1914. Having been outside the top flight since 1966, the Lancashire club embarked on a meteoric journey from the depths of the Second Division in 1991 to the upper echelons of English football within three years. But despite guiding the club to such dizzy heights, Kenny Dalglish declined the opportunity to take his side into Europe in the following campaign. Ray Harford, his humble assistant, assumed the reins. In May 1999, Blackburn Rovers were relegated from the Premier League.
Jack Walker, a local industrialist, is largely credited for the success of that Rovers side. His considerable investment convinced the likes of Alan Shearer, Tim Sherwood, Chris Sutton and Graeme le Saux to engage with the project. However, Rovers inability to maintain a credible challenge thereafter prompted several stars to look elsewhere.
Given that Leicester City’s squad has been collated at a cost of just £55m, the Srivaddhanaphraba family stand to make sizeable profit should they choose to cash in on their talent. Both Riyad Mahrez and N’Golo Kanté have drawn admiring glances from a host of top European clubs, while the likes of Kasper Schmeichel, Jamie Vardy and Danny Drinkwater would be welcome additions at most English sides. The true intentions of the Thai owners are as yet unknown.
It would be difficult to see how Mahrez and Kanté wouldn’t be tempted to play in some of the biggest stadiums in the world, lining out alongside some of the greatest players to grace the game. A journey through Europe á la Harchester United might seem attractive, but they will also be realistic. Last year Real Madrid were prepared to offer £80m for Eden Hazard – they might yet get their man for a cut-price fee following the Belgian’s poor campaign.
There is also the Ranieri question. For one, he is not a young man (in fact he is the tenth oldest manager in the history of the Premier League). Only he knows whether he has the energy to mount a challenge on both English and European fronts next year. Furthermore, given that he has never stayed with the same club beyond a third season, Ranieri is all too aware of the fluctuating nature of the game.
Sir Alex Ferguson, Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley all achieved an abundance of success with clubs that were natural members of the Round Table. They were annual contenders for domestic and continental honours. Ranieri, however, is on the cusp of success with a team that seemed destined to dine in the servant’s quarters.
Having returned to England as a slighted mercenary, he will emerge from this campaign as a romantic hero – as if a rose tree sprouted out of a slag heap.
The authorities at Leicester City presumably have a stern rule about keeping off the pitch, but the football folk of the East Midlands club will not be denied their hour of glory. Even if the club officials were to build a moat around the field, the delirious fans of the Foxes will walk on water.
You can bet that many of them will be calling to their bank before then.
Watching Leicester win the Premier League: Priceless
Richard McElwee, Pundit Arena