One year ago they had barely survived the top flight. Seven years ago they were in League One. Now, after the East Midlanders pulled off the most staggering feat in English football history, FourFourTwo’s resident fox Joe Brewin tries to reflect…
I remember nearly nothing about Leicester City’s game on May 4, 2008, other than knowing afterwards that things surely wouldn’t get any worse. The opponents were Stoke City, the setting was the Britannia Stadium, and my team had just been relegated to English football’s third tier for the first time.
Incredibly, we’d managed it with the Championship’s second-best defence too; a bizarre anomaly fit for a hopeless campaign in which even Gary Megson didn’t want to be our manager for more than 41 days. That day we looked on in envy as Stoke fans flooded the pitch to celebrate automatic promotion; as Bristol City made the play-offs and Hull won them; as Plymouth posted a league finish well above what we’d managed since dropping from the Premier League in 2004, having nicked their manager (and dearly beloved Barry Hayles) months previously.
That'll do, fair result. Good last 15 minutes and could have won at the end but it's a useful point.
— Joe Brewin (@JoeBrewinFFT) 22 August 2015
August 22: an inauspicious start
Forgive us, then, for this feeling of helplessness.
For that helplessness is simply bewilderment; of trying to explain the inexplicable, how this Leicester team, eight years on, have pulled off what might just be the greatest footballing achievement of all time.
Just don’t call it a fairy tale. If the phrase has proved a worn cliché over the last six months anyway, now it’s simply not true. The Collins Dictionary defines ‘fairy tale’ as being “a highly improbable account” – but this has happened. This is very real.
Probably the only player you can say this for today, but Kante has been really, really good. #LCFC
— Joe Brewin (@JoeBrewinFFT) 29 August 2015
Kante shines early doors
Lowlights and long nights
Before the promotion-winning season of 2013/14, there had been so little to enjoy over the previous decade. League One was fun as it turned out, if only to rediscover a winning feeling lost for six years, but the two Championship play-off semi-final heartaches that followed weren’t so much.
Ask any Leicester to fan to name a highlight from the years 2003-2013 and they’d be hard-pushed to name more than a few individual matches away from that campaign in the third tier. A few highlights. In 10 years. (For the record, an FA Cup third-round comeback in 2006 against Tottenham from two goals down; two seasons later, a 3-2 League Cup victory at Nottingham Forest having allowed goalkeeper Paul Smith to walk one in from kick-off; Anthony Knockaert’s play-off-securing winner at the same ground six-and-a-half years later.)
“History makes us who we are,” read a message on the King Power Stadium Kop before kick-off against Swansea. If Leicester weren’t entirely certain of who they were seven days ago, they certainly are now. Champions of England, that’s who.
Bit credit to Ranieri as well: subs all made a positive impact, and Dyer in particular just gave us another dimension.
— Joe Brewin (@JoeBrewinFFT) 13 September 2015
The first praise for Ranieri, back in early September
It will surely never happen again – not just the case of a team in such despair as last season reviving themselves to challenge, but bulldozing past not one or two but six footballing giants and beyond to live out the most sensational of storylines. Under the manager who never should have been appointed, they said, Leicester would be relegated. 5,000/1, the bookmakers said.
Five thousand. Back in August, you could have got 2,500/1 on David Cameron replacing Tim Sherwood as Aston Villa boss, and 1,000/1 for the Queen to have a Christmas No.1.
There is no fathomable explanation other than to simply acknowledge what a brilliant team Leicester have been this season. There has never been any good reason to doubt them, other than the inevitable pessimism that years of mediocrity and misery has accumulated – and at each bump in the road they ploughed straight on while others around them slowed or stumbled completely.
Wee N'Golo is a defensive machine. Most interceptions, second-most tackles, most ball recoveries (12, not shown). pic.twitter.com/8ZdTbUpBNu
— Joe Brewin (@JoeBrewinFFT) 19 September 2015
The Kante effect begins to get noticed
They have been top since the 21st game of the season, only two sides have bettered them this season, and on each occasion the Foxes bounced back. There have been no nerves, no signs of feeling the strain, but plenty of digging in; the six wins to nil between February 27 and April 10, five of them by just one goal.
In fact, Leicester have won an incredible 14 matches by a single strike this season – seven more than Arsenal, and eight better than Tottenham and Manchester City.
Good grief that was uncomfortable. But a really, really good win that. #lcfc
— Joe Brewin (@JoeBrewinFFT) 3 October 2015
Squeaking out the wins
There have been four standout players in Wes Morgan, N’Golo Kante, Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy, but it goes without saying that this team is so much greater than the sum of its parts. Leicester’s lineup is an electrical circuit that needs all of its components to power on; Ranieri its master technician.
There cannot be many more managers who have made so many eat their words. The reaction to the Italian’s arrival last July was almost universal mocking; at best muffled disapproval. Hometown favourite Gary Lineker voiced his indignant surprise, media outlets (including one not too far from here) tipped the Foxes for relegation and, most amusing of all, Dietmar Hamann called “MK rather than Old Trafford [the] season after next” for the Foxes.
How one man can move from so low in our estimations to so high in a matter of months must surely remind us of the dangers around making snap-judgements based on little more than whimsical memories. Ranieri came back to England as the funny-talking Tinkerman who’d been shown up by Jose Mourinho, and a nearly figure of European football.
Ten months on, incomprehensibly, he is prising the Premier League trophy away from his former club, having hammered the final nail in Mourinho’s coffin back in December. It was all surely worth the wait.
*CLEAN SHEET KLAXON*
— Joe Brewin (@JoeBrewinFFT) 24 October 2015
Getting it right at the back...
There have been plenty of other heroes along the way – head of recruitment Steve Walsh has crafted an outstanding scouting network so essential to the building of this history-making squad; fans’ favourite midfielder Andy King, meanwhile, has become the first player to win the top three divisions with the same club, and now prepares for a final-day trip to Stamford Bridge – the ground on which he used to be a ball boy in Ranieri’s Chelsea days.
The club, too, have done themselves proud as a whole: Leicester’s owners have learned the hard way of running one – lest we forget that they allowed Sven-Goran Eriksson to burn many of their millions before Nigel Pearson arrived to clean up the Swede’s mess in 2011 – but this season they have been vindicated in their unwavering support.
This is getting a bit silly now. We're actually quite good aren't we...
— Joe Brewin (@JoeBrewinFFT) 5 December 2015
It's still going...
A fortnight ago, season-ticket prices were frozen for the second year running, even with a dream campaign of Champions League football on the horizon. That, after plying fans with free beer twice this season, doughnuts on the chairman’s birthday, free scarves on away trips and doing their best to make the King Power Stadium one of the loudest in the country.
Nothing else matters
Leicester could do no wrong this season.
Vardy broke a Premier League goalscoring record, Mahrez won the PFA Player of the Year award and next season they have the sweet sensation of Champions League football heading to the East Midlands – as England’s Pot 1 representatives, no less. But they know things won’t be like this again.
Don't play particularly well. Win 3-2 at Everton. Five points clear. Top at Christmas. Bottom this time last year. WHAT IS THIS.
— Joe Brewin (@JoeBrewinFFT) 19 December 2015
Looking good come the halfway point...
They know that much of their success this campaign has been down to other sides failing miserably, and that next season offers them all a shot at redemption; Manchester City and Chelsea with incoming managers, Manchester United too if Jose Mourinho gets his way, Arsenal in what might be Arsene Wenger’s final season at the club, and even Liverpool where Jurgen Klopp now has a full summer of fine-tuning ahead. Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham, who ran them so close, are built to last.
The truth is, though, it doesn’t even matter. This has been a mentally exhausting season for any Leicester City fan who has chased the dream of this once-in-a-lifetime title alongside their blue-shirted heroes; far more than any relegation battle or second-tier promotion charge could ever be.
Feels, for the first time, like we're genuinely moving into 'big game' territory here. I don't like it. #lcfc
— Joe Brewin (@JoeBrewinFFT) 6 February 2016
Next season the bigger clubs can reclaim their places atop the pile, and even make their plays at trying to buy Leicester’s best players. They might just succeed.
But they can never, ever take this stupid, staggering achievement away – and that’s the greatest feeling of all.
Not even really sure what to say anymore.
— Joe Brewin (@JoeBrewinFFT) 3 April 2016