Leicester need to lead their marathon from the front
Sven's spending has put a premium on Leicester's league performance, says Ed Wilson
As the Championship gets into its swing from its unusually early start date, speculation over the promotion favourites intensifies. The big hitters of Birmingham and West Ham feature prominently; so do play-off nearly-men Nottingham Forest and Cardiff. But at the moment, despite their 10th-placed finish last season, itÃ¢ÂÂs Leicester that are getting the nod from most bookies.
This isnÃ¢ÂÂt surprising, as the club are doing their best to raise expectations. TheyÃ¢ÂÂve invested heavily in their squad, with Sven Goran Eriksson bringing in nine players over the summer, at an estimated cost of ÃÂ£10 million. New recruits include ex-Premier League stalwarts John Pantsil and Paul Konchesky, as well as proven Championship players like David Nugent and Kasper Schmeichel.
It would be totally understandable if followers of top-flight football were a little underwhelmed by these signings, but while none of them are ever going to generate the same transfer heat as Sergio Aguero, theyÃ¢ÂÂre all more than decent. In particular, full-backs Pantsil and Konchesky should work well in LeicesterÃ¢ÂÂs attack-minded 4-3-3 formation.
And itÃ¢ÂÂs not just the quality of the acquisitions that reflect LeicesterÃ¢ÂÂs ambition; itÃ¢ÂÂs the quantity, as well. Eriksson has said that he wants a squad of 20 players all genuinely capable of competing for a first-team place and makes almost daily statements promising more stars, including a Ã¢ÂÂbig nameÃ¢ÂÂ striker.
He justifies this quality-in-quantity policy by pointing to the length of the Championship season. ItÃ¢ÂÂs hard to fault his logic: the 46 games constitute a marathon in which your fellow runners insist on trying to kick you. You donÃ¢ÂÂt just need good players: to last the distance, you also need plenty of them.
Among the newbies: Konchesky, Danns, Schmeichel
But while this is undeniable, thereÃ¢ÂÂs more to LeicesterÃ¢ÂÂs voracious appetite for players than the demands of their coach. ItÃ¢ÂÂs part of a bigger statement being made by the owners, Asia Football Investments, about the club as a whole and the direction itÃ¢ÂÂs going in.
This summer, besides trying to buy almost every lower-ranked player in the Premiership, Leicester have hosted a friendly against Real Madrid Ã¢ÂÂ reportedly at seven-figure cost Ã¢ÂÂ and had their ambitions endorsed by Jose Mourinho (he predicted Premier League status "very, very soon").
Like other aspiring brands, theyÃ¢ÂÂve been linked with David Beckham, presumably hoping his cosmopolitan glamour will do for their slightly faded image what it did for BrylcreemÃ¢ÂÂs. Clearly, the club is positioning itself for a move onto a bigger stage.
In this context, ErikssonÃ¢ÂÂs bullish recruitment policy is both understandable and risky. By making use of the transfer market to raise LeicesterÃ¢ÂÂs profile, heÃ¢ÂÂs improving the quality of his squad while simultaneously cranking up the pressure to get results.
Speed is of the essence in this; the clubÃ¢ÂÂs comparatively massive outlay means the fans and owners will expect them to win promotion from the front, rather than copying Norwich, who were fifth at Christmas before eventually taking second.
That wonÃ¢ÂÂt be easy. In addition to Birmingham and West Ham, sides such as Forest, Reading and even Middlesbrough, who all finished strongly last season, should compete well from the start. Compared to some of these squads, Leicester are still in transition.
The example of SvenÃ¢ÂÂs former club, Man City, suggests that while money can make that transition quick, it wonÃ¢ÂÂt be instantaneous: it takes time for a team to establish their own identity. But in these circumstances, time is often the one thing in short supply. So while Eriksson is right to identify the Championship as a marathon, his transfer activity is increasing the pressure on his side to start sprinting.