The Foxes sit top of the Premier League
A year ago to the day, the club was bottom
Vardy, Mahrez, Kante and co leading team to unlikely title charge
Until now, the much vaunted English Premier League has delivered decidedly foreseeable conclusions, with the past 20 seasons throwing up the same four title winners.
Thanks to Leicester City, that could all be about to change.
A year ago to the day, Leicester sat bottom of the Premier League table on just 19 points – a yawning seven-point chasm between the club and any chance of top-flight survival.
Fast forward 12 months and Premier League leaders Leicester sit pretty on 63 points – a remarkable 44-point shift. Their latest victory, a 1-0 win over struggling Newcastle.
The Great Escape
It’s a triumph of football over finance, and according to Gary Lineker should Leicester go on to win the title it will be “quite possibly the most unlikely triumph in the history of team sport,” the former Foxes striker wrote in Britain’s Guardian.
In truth this glorious charge has its roots in the club’s gritty escape last season.
Even then their unlikely ascent didn’t begin until April 4 as the club staggered back from the brink to win seven of their remaining nine games.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?
If that was the form of champions, most pundits were still predicting Leicester would be relegated this season.
After all, their savior Nigel Pearson had unceremoniously left the club amid an off-pitch debacle involving – among others – his son.
Many of those same pundits largely ridiculed the appointment of Pearson’s successor – veteran Italian coach Claudio Ranieri – by the club’s Thai billionaire owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha.
The bookies’ view was equally scathing, with Ranieri’s men at 5,000/1 to win the Premier League title.
The unlikely lads
Except the Leicester players – notably Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez – weren’t paying attention to either the pundits or the bookies.
Just four years on from playing for non-league minnows Fleetwood Town, the former factory-worker Vardy has broken Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s consecutive Premier League goals record, scoring in 11 straight games.
In 2010, Vardy had been earning £30 a week playing for Stocksbridge Park Steels; suddenly he was the man in golden boots the whole world was talking about.
Mahrez has arguably been even better, as calls for the mercurial Algerian to win the PFA Player of the Year grow louder by the week.
While Vardy and Mahrez have grabbed the headlines, journeyman defenders have united to form a near-impenetrable defense, while N’golo Kante has seemed to emerge from the ether, dominating midfield battles like a pocket-size Patrick Vieira.
“A collection of individuals who couldn’t win a football match for love nor money a year ago have turned into an invincible force,” wrote Lineker, who now works as a television presenter.
The joke in Leicester is that the team’s revival is related to Richard III’s burial in the city last year.
No wonder, then, that Lineker turned to Shakespeare as he searched for words to inspire the Leicester players, who after Monday’s game against relegation-threatened Newcastle have eight games to secure sporting immortality.
“Don’t be afraid, my team. Make it yours. As Shakespeare’s Richard III said: ‘What do I fear? Myself?’”