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Why Leicester City's Cinderella story is important for football and beyond

Bhargab Sarmah | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:51 IST

"The rich will do anything for the poor but get off their backs," Karl Marx had once famously remarked.

In the context of modern-day football, Marx's quote makes for apt reading. Never in the history of the sport has there existed a greater gulf between the top and bottom-most entities of the footballing ladder.

Modern-day football is a microcosm of the society we live in. The beautiful game has today become so highly-commercialised that it is almost impossible for clubs at the bottom of the structural rung to come up and compete with the sport's big boys.

This is not limited to Europe, of course. Football in Asia, for instance, is at a stage where giant corporations have a far greater say in the sport. Competitive football is fast turning into a money-fuelled spectacle, where only the rich clubs compete for the top prizes.

Nor is this is not to suggest that Leicester City were not financially strong enough for the Premier League. They do have a very rich owner in Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, some outstanding training facilities and a very decent stadium.

However, unlike the big boys of the league, they run on limited resources. The club has the 4th lowest wage bill in the league, and before the start of the season, they did not have the financial muscle or continental football to attract superstar signings.

Last season, the Foxes stayed rooted to the bottom of the Premier League table for most of the season - until a late flourish, a run of seven wins in their last nine games, saw them secure another season of top-flight football.

Even after their incredible escape, the club was thrown into turmoil at the end of the season when a post-season tour to Thailand descended into chaos. Three players from the youth side, one of them the son of then-manager Nigel Pearson, filmed themselves having an orgy with local women, while making racist jokes throughout the video.

The three players and the manager were released from the club. And in came Italian journeyman Claudio Ranieri, best known for finishing second with a number of teams in different leagues across Europe. He had arrived at the club just after a disastrous stint with the Greece national team. These reasons probably contributed to the bookies offering 5000/1 odds on Leicester winning the league.

Photo: Twitter (@premierleague)

What has happened since is incredible! With two games to spare, Leicester have already been assured of the title. They are now getting ready to lift the shiny trophy when they take on Everton at home this weekend.

A lot has already been said about the manager and the group of players who came together this season to pull off the greatest sporting miracle of our times, but Leicester's rise to the pinnacle is difficult to explain. It makes no sense!

You have a manager who, before this season, was dubbed as being well past his prime. The club captain, Wes Morgan, was deemed too slow last season. Riyad Mahrez was supposedly not strong enough for the Premier League.

Not many knew about N'golo Kante, who had just arrived from Caen. There were doubts about Jamie Vardy's ability to compete at the highest level. A few years ago, he was playing for non-league Stocksbridge Park Steels on 30 pounds a week. There was Andy King, who had plumbed the depths of the third-tier with Leicester seven seasons ago.

Then there were the likes of Danny Drinkwater, Danny Simpson, Cristian Fuchs, Shinji Okazaki, Robert Huth, Kasper Schmeichel, et al. They are a talented group of footballers, but were not considered by many as being good enough to keep Leicester afloat in the Premier League.

Photo: Twitter (@premierleague)

Credit must be given to Ranieri for how he has shaped his team this season. Leicester has been lucky with injuries, but the 'Tinkerman' has tinkered little with the squad. He has let things be and built on what Pearson had behind left at the club.

An Italian manager known for his tactical nous, Ranieri for most part of the season, set his team up in a traditional English 4-4-2, albeit with more freedom to the likes of Vardy and Mahrez up front. He also benefited from the role Kante played in midfield.

At times, the French midfielder looked like a player-and-a-half, always looking to close down spaces for opponents and always looking for spaces for his teammates up front.

Despite being billed as one of the weakest teams in the league, Leicester played thrilling, attacking football. Without much possession, their lightning quick speed up front, their persistent pressing and closing down of spaces when without the ball, and most importantly, calm, composed and resolute defending at the back unsettled most of their opponents.

Quite incredibly, Huth and Morgan, both in their 30s, have emerged as one of the best defensive pairings in Europe this season. The duo had been deemed too slow and old prior to this season, but both have been spectacular throughout the nine months.

Photo: Twitter (@premierleague)

"No matter what happens to end this season, I think our story is important for all football fans around the world. It gives hope to all the young players out there who have been told they are not good enough," Ranieri had written in The Players' Tribune prior to Leicester's 2-0 away win over Sunderland last month.

It is not only Leicester's story, but the sub-plots involved in it, which are important for football fans around the world. From Claudio Ranieri to Jamie Vardy, Leicester City were a group of misfits, rejects and individuals past their primes.

And yet, this group worked in absolute sync to triumph spectacularly in a season where the established order has been brought down to its knees.

Leicester's Cinderella story is unlikely to be repeated any time soon. For fans who have become disenfranchised by the growing inequality in the sport, for football romantics who are disillusioned with the modern game, Leicester's title win has given hope where there was none. And reassurance that beautiful things still happen in the sport we love to call the beautiful game.

-Edited by Blassy Bobin.

First published: 4 May 2016, 9:04 IST
 
Bhargab Sarmah @BhargabSarmah

An avid fan of the beautiful game since his childhood, Bhargab has been writing about football in India for the last three years. He supports I-League club Shillong Lajong, as well as English giants Manchester United. Having recently graduated with a degree in commerce, he now writes about football and other sports at Catch.

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