The whole world will smile with Leicester if they win the Premier League tonight
Leicester City may have to wait hours, a week, or a fortnight for the biggest party of their 132-year existence, but the 1-1 draw at Manchester United only seemed to prolong their coronation.
In front of 3,500 travelling supporters – and a smattering of intrepid rogues who had smuggled their way into the home areas at Old Trafford – the Foxes refused to yield, digging deep to inch a point closer to Premier League paradise.
If Tottenham fail to defeat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge tonight, a feat they have not achieved since 1990, champagne corks will fly. As the New York Times pointed out, the 5,000/1 odds of this happening back in August were taller even than the 1,000/1 offered on Hugh Hefner turning out to be a virgin.
Elvis Presley was more likely to be alive and well. The Loch Ness monster, by that logic, should be prowling in the waters of the Scottish Highlands too.
There is a song that once echoed around all four wonky, crumbling corners of the old Filbert Street, the home of Leicester for 111 years. It does so now, too, down Filbert Way, where you will find the bowl-like King Power Stadium, possibly even louder than before. It goes: “When you're sighing, you bring on the rain. So stop your sighing, be happy again. ‘Cos when you're smiling, when you're smiling, the whole world smiles with you.”
That hymn was there each time when Leicester lost a record four FA Cup finals without winning it, the most recent of which was in 1969. It was there again when the club sunk into administration in 2002, with its very existence under threat; there still when they tumbled into the third tier of the football pyramid for the first time in their history - just eight years ago. And it was there yesterday, at football's theatre of dreams, as Leicester moved within two points of the Premier League title.
Too big for the second tier, too little to do anything of note in the top tier, things like this simply do not happen to clubs like Leicester. Whether your pilgrimage is to Bramall Lane or Goodison Park, the Riverside or St Andrew's, supporters across the land now believe a miracle could one day befall them too.
This week Claudio Ranieri, on the cusp of becoming a champion after finishing second in three different countries, was shown footage of Leicester fans thanking him for his service.
Only Ranieri had the foresight to insist upon a bonus for lifting the title being inserted in his contract back in July.
The former Chelsea, Internazionale and Monaco manager did so because Leicester wanted to safeguard themselves from an acrimonious and costly separation if the pundits proved to be correct and his tenure turned out to be a failure.
His current deal, worth £1.5m a year, is hastily being renegotiated. If the fairy-tale gets its happy ending, Ranieri will pocket a £5m lump sum as well as a separate £100,000 for each position above 17th. When shown that video of supporters singing his praises, Ranieri was on the edge of tears.
“Thank you,” he said, his voice breaking. “Can I have a copy of that please?” Ranieri’s family herald from Formello, about an hour north of Rome, where he has now been nicknamed II Romano Inglese – the English Roman.
His often frustrating, occasionally disastrous substitutions, at the turn of the millennium as Chelsea boss condemned him to another, less friendly, sobriquet. The Tinkerman returned to England nine months ago amid a cackling chorus of condemnation.
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Everybody remembers the defeat to Faroe Islands, on his watch as Greece manager, but they tend to forget that Ranieri had just 14 contact days with his players. The coverage of his time there was sullied. Zero Tituli, another unwanted moniker, meaning ‘no titles’ in Italian, was handed to him by José Mourinho, the deposed Chelsea manager. Ranieri took charge of Roma after two winless matches for I Giallorossi under Luciano Spalletti in 2009.
He guided his hometown club to the Serie A summit but eventually succumbed to a late Inter charge, hence why he refuses to proclaim victory this time around until both hands are on the trophy. Asked what his plans are tonight, with supporters set to huddle around television sets yet again, Ranieri revealed his priorities were elsewhere. “I am on a flight,” he said. “Now I go back to Italy and I come back at the same time of the match, so I will be the last man in England to know the result.
“I want to meet my mother. She is 96-years-old and I like to go to have lunch with her.”
Ranieri has been a tinker, tailor and soldier this season, but would rather spend potentially the biggest day of his professional life with his mother instead of spying on Spurs. Upon his return from Rome, the Leicester manager could be greeted by a hero’s welcome at the airport.
If he does, you can bet the whole world, baring those who herald from north London, of course, will be smiling with him tonight.
(© Independent News Service)
Independent News Service