Thursday 26 April 2018

It's exactly a year since Leicester City took the greatest gamble in Premier League history

Leicester City
Leicester City

Tom Rooney

There were those rendered incredulous by Leicester City’s appointment of Claudio Ranieri, others openly and wantonly mocked it, but before long, they were all clamouring to jump aboard the big blue bandwagon.

It wasn’t that the sceptics and the hecklers didn’t like the genial Italian on a personal level, because they did, but, from a professional perspective, the general consensus was one of overwhelming doubt.

Now, to be fair, Ranieri had just been sacked by the Greek national team after less than six months at the helm. His dismissal was precipitated by a loss to the Faroe Islands in a Euro 2016 qualifier.

During his brief tenure, Ranieri perennially altered his tactics and selections, which only further highlighted his less than complimentary moniker, ‘the Tinkerman.’

The previous season Leicester, under Nigel Pearson, looked destined for the drop almost from the moment a ball was kicked.  They had only won promotion to the Premier League by clinching the Championship title, so their poor form was somewhat of a surprise.

However, they picked up 22 points from their last nine games, and ultimately survived the drop with ease, finishing in 14th.

Pearson was dismissed in the off season, ostensibly for professional differences, but almost certainly for his son’s - a Leicester player - role in a racist sex tape made in Thailand.

Ranieri’s agent brokered a meeting between the manager and the Foxes’ Thai owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, a duty-free magnet, and, with both parties suitably impressed, a deal was struck.

During the summer Leicester acquired 10 new players, among them Christian Fuchs and the indefatigable N’Golo Kante.

In hindsight, much of Leicester’s subsequent success was attributed to Ranieri not straying too far from Pearson’s blueprint. He switched from a back three to a four-man rear guard but, largely, he sought to harness the momentum from the latter part of the previous campaign.

They relied on searing counter attacks, a well-oiled defensive system and all but shunned possession. That Jamie Vardy was scoring for fun, and Riyad Mahrez proving himself most dynamic attacker in the league, in tandem with Kante tackling all and sundry, was certainly helping matters.

Furthermore, it would be remiss not to mention that they undoubtedly benefitted from the indifferent form of Chelsea, Manchester City, United and Liverpool, but Leicester’s league record was hugely impressive nonetheless.

Claudio Ranieri's Leicester open the 2016-17 Premier League season against Hull at 1230 on August 13

In total, they lost just three league games all season, twice to Arsenal and then to Liverpool. They are the only side in Premier League history to be bottom of the table on Christmas day one year, then top of the heap 12 months later.

Between October 3 and December 17, they went 10 league games unbeaten, winning eight and, still, few saw them as genuine contenders. All the while, the irrepressible Ranieri reminded everyone why they loved him so much when he was in charge at Chelsea.

Leicester City's Jamie Vardy poses with the Premier League Trophy. Photo: Getty

Still, this was perhaps the biggest charge levelled at him; he was simply too nice to win at the elite level, a notion reflected on his extensive CV.

Indeed, he wasn’t the only charming subplot in this compelling tale. Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez, Wes Morgan and Kasper Smeichel each had engaging backstories, which were all unfurled to varying degrees.

On May 1, Leicester rocked up to Old Trafford as all but champions elect, but a 1-1 draw temporarily halted celebrations. It mattered little, however, as Chelsea’s 2-2 draw with then second placed Spurs confirmed the impossible the following day.

Leicester City, led by Mr Nice, were just the sixth different champions in Premier League history. In the end, they would have 10 points to spare on Arsenal.

For the first time in their 124-year history, Leicester were officially the best team in England. It was a triumph of cohesion, the collective and, more importantly, a jarring reminder to all that anything can happen, even in the Premier League. The 5000-1 bet came in big.

Online Editors

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