Claudio Ranieri is on the verge of delivering the most unexpected of titles to Leicester City Football Club.
As Leicester City sit at the top of the Premier League table with a five point cushion over Tottenhman Hotspur and only eight games remaining, the fairy tale is looking more and more like it will become a reality.
At the start of the season you could get odds of 5000/1 for Leicester to win the league. Given their performance last season, when they barely avoided relegation, those odds seemed pretty fair.
Now, in mid-March, all eyes are on Claudio Ranieri’s side and with the exception of Spurs, Arsenal and Man City fans, everyone is quietly willing and urging the Premiership ‘minnows’ on to glory. It’s not going to be an easy run-in as they face both Manchester United and Chelsea away, Chelsea in fact on the last day of the season.
In previous seasons these would be fixtures that would almost surely have been away losses for the Foxes but the tables have well and truly turned. United are a shambles, a mere shadow of their former glory, while Chelsea are still fragile following a dismal start to the season that saw them hit 15th in the table in December.
With Tottenham five points adrift and in search of their first league title for half a century, the title winning credentials of a Leicester side full of rejects and unknowns, are growing weekly. As the football world analyses the clubs turnaround it becomes clear that the catalyst for their success this season lies with manager Claudio Ranieri.
The former boss of Chelsea, Inter Milan, Roma, Juventus and another four clubs since 2000, Ranieri has been hit and miss throughout his managerial career. As far back as 1986, his longest stint in charge was with Chelsea where he led the club between 2000 and 2004, delivering no silverware. Known for his calm demeanour and soft and measured tones, Ranieri had become something of a journeyman manager, not one from the top shelf but rather a stop gap until a bigger name could be hired.
This season however, the stars have aligned. His calmness has become an asset and his grounded approach has fuelled his side’s focus and confidence to such a level that they have lost only three times this season. This is a mid-2000’s Manchester United performance.
Leicester’s 1-0 victory over Newcastle on Monday night was perhaps as good an indication of their title aspirations as any, as they ground out a victory from a mediocre performance. These are the kind of victories that win titles, not the headline grabbing multi-goal scoring affairs.
Throughout it all, Claudio Ranieri has remained steadfast in his approach, never deviating from his ‘one game at a time philosophy’. So far it has been working beautifully. Speaking of his next challenge following his side’s victory over Newcastle, Crystal Palace at the weekend, Ranieri said,
“Alan Pardew (Palace boss) was upstairs to watch us, it’s another tough match. We want to enjoy and want to continue, our fans are dreaming and are so proud of us. The fans must dream and we must work.”
This simple and refreshingly humble approach has been bought into by Leicester players also and it is clearly delivering results. They understand their lofty position and what is at stake and yet continue to defy the expectations of the ‘experts’.
All season Leicester have been something of a sideshow, a feel good story to enjoy while the big guns got their acts together. Today, with eight games remaining, Leicester are now THE show while the floundering of Man Utd, Chelsea, Arsenal and Man City and their management troubles, have become the sideshow.
There are not many out there who don’t want to see Leicester pull off the seemingly impossible. Their approach is refreshing and inspiring and many a young player would do well to pay attention.
Claudio Ranieri is surely a shoo-in for Manager of the Year, while Jamie Vardy is likewise for Player of the Year honours. But you would feel that these accolades would be hollow without the Premier League title to go with them.
The pressure is only going to mount as the games tick away. It is really from now that we will see if Ranieri can keep his players focused on the next game rather than on the prize.
If he can, then it’s going to be the biggest story in Premier League history.