By now I’m hoping just about everyone has heard of Leicester City Football Club. If not, don’t sweat it; you still have time to witness one of the greatest, if not the greatest sports stories in years.
After gaining promotion from England’s second tier in 2014, Leicester (pronounced Lesster) didn’t have an ideal year in the Premier League (PL). They sat bottom of the table for four-and-a-half months, facing relegation, before a miraculous run at the end of the year preserved their top-flight status.
Now, with three games left to play in the current season, they are one win away from winning an improbable title. How did they get here? They’ve had some luck (as most championship teams do), other teams have slipped up but most importantly they have played damn good football.
Leicester’s Italian manager Claudio Ranieri has been hailed for his composed and thoughtful approach. He didn’t even mention that Leicester had a shot at the title until a few weeks ago. While Leicester has been top of the league, his preseason goal didn’t change: 40 points, enough to ensure another season in the PL. After Leicester’s first clean sheet of the season, Ranieri treated his players to a pizza party. But now, even fellow PL managers like Quique Sánchez Flores know that not much can be done about the Foxes’ astounding season: “What Claudio is doing is amazing: everyone knows how his team plays but no one can stop them.” Leicester currently has 76 points.
Ranieri’s men have played most of this season without the ball. They have sat back, defended with an admirable grit and togetherness, and scored countless goals on the counterattack through their one-two punch of forward Jamie Vardy and winger Riyad Mahrez. Vardy has scored 22 goals, including an English top-flight record of scoring in 11 games in a row. Mahrez, an Algerian, was just named the league’s first ever African player of the year. His 17 goals and 11 assists are remarkable. But the full picture is how Mahrez glides up and down the pitch, ball strapped to his foot, always a split-second away from losing his defender. No wonder he’s the league’s second most fouled player.
These two are a perfect example of what sets Leicester apart. Vardy was bought for £1M from Fleetwood Town in England’s third tier in 2012. Just two years earlier Vardy was playing semi-professionally and working part-time at a factory. On March 26 Vardy scored his first goal for England, a perfectly crafted back heel against reigning World Champion Germany. Mahrez was bought for just £400k from French Ligue 2 side Le Havre, which is pennies compared to the ridiculous fuss PL clubs pay for big names.
Of course it’s not just those two. Leicester’s two center midfielders, N’golo Kanté and Danny Drinkwater (yes, Drinkwater) both recently won caps and played their first senior games for France and England respectively. Kanté’s tireless running and desire has gained him praise throughout the year, with Ranieri adding: “One day, I’m going to see you (Kanté) cross the ball, and then finish the cross with a header yourself.” Center backs Wes Morgan and Robert Huth have formed a convincing partnership. Christian Fuchs, the left back, is captain of the Austrian national team. Shinji Okazaki has 48 goals in 100 games for Japan.
It is so rare, yet so delightfully breathtaking when a story so perfect comes together. Leicester has gained countless new fans through their belief and showing on the pitch. As they head to Manchester with a chance to win the title this Sunday, make sure you tune in; what is about to happen may not ever culminate in sports again.
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