Paris Saint-Germain’s Thiago Silva, Real Madrid’s Marcelo and Chelsea’s Kenedy are among the players who have come from Fluminense’s youth teams – and the Rio de Janeiro side are now studying Claudio Ranieri’s men to improve their work with kids.
“How can we explain that a side with one of the lowest passing success percentages is the big sensation of the Premier League?” asked Fluminense’s coordinator Marcelo Teixeira, a former Manchester United scout.
He’s not alone. If Dunga gets sacked from Brazilian national team, the favourite to succeed him is Tite. And guess what? He’s also a Leicester’s fan – and a joker too. “I’ve sent the name of Riyad Mahrez to the Corinthians board,” he laughed in a recent press conference.
Brazil’s champions won’t buy him, of course. But every fan – and also professional – in Brazil have ditched the beach on Sunday mornings to follow Leicester’s phenomenon on TV.
They talk about the relationship between Kasabian and the club on social media, and envy their supporters for dreams about the title and getting free beer on the chairman’s birthday.
Brazilian side Chapecoense have even invited the Premier League leaders for a friendly through their Twitter account. “Who knows,” sighed coach Guto Ferreira.
There are 210,000 Google results in Spanish for "el milagro del Leicester" (the Leicester miracle). In Argentina, they’re usually referred as "El Leicester de Ulloa" (Ulloa's Leicester), such is the fame the former Brighton striker has amassed.
Jamie Vardy earned four pages of the classic section ‘From A to Z’ in El Gráfico magazine in March, while Claudio Ranieri was also described as the ‘conductor’ of the Leicester orchestra in the April edition of Argentina’s traditional magazine.
The rise in demand of Leicester products – from the few available – can be seen on the eBay of Argentina, Mercadolibre: the shirt is sold for 800 pesos (£40), while most other Premier League ones vary between 450 and 600 pesos.
Outside La Bombonera, two Boca fans discussed the team's tactics recently. "The problem is that [Fernando] Gago is not a traditional No.4, we need [Adrian] Cubas,” one tells the other.
“He reminds me of [N’Golo] Kantè; a short and clean ball-winner. Without him, Leicester were relegation candidates... and look at them now."
“Have you heard?” Maurizio calls out. “They could sign Francesco Totti!”
Fifteen years ago, this coffee bar aside would have sparked a conversation about the viability of Real Madrid during the Galactico era, but today it is Leicester. Led by Claudio Ranieri – the Rome native who failed to deliver tangible success to Juventus, Roma and Fiorentina – the nature of this unlikely title push is not lost on the fans of his former clubs.
While his reputation in England had him pegged as ‘The Tinkerman,’ in Italy the Foxes boss was previously regarded as a fireman; someone called in to rescue clubs flirting with relegation. Yet now, thanks to the widening gap at the top of the Premier League, a Sky Sport Italia caption has labelled him ‘CR+7’.
Various columns dedicated to the rise of Leicester have described their season as “una favola nella favola” – a fairy tale within a fairy tale. Most are simply unable to comprehend how this team of journeymen have stolen a march on England’s cash-rich super clubs.
“Ranieri is playing a very Italian 4-4-2, defending and hoping to win 1-0, but he’s having a lot of luck,” fan Luca says as the bar chat continues. “Van Gaal, Mourinho, Wenger and Pellegrini are as responsible as Ranieri, but it’s a beautiful story.
Talk then turns to the Serie A title race of 1985, when Hellas Verona came out on top for the first and only time. “A normal team with two incredible players,” they say. “Everything Vardy touches is a goal and Mahrez is just a devastating talent. Preben Elkjær and Hans-Peter Briegel were the same for Verona. Unbelievable.”
An event created by the Facebook page Calciatori Brutti (over one million followers, translates as ‘the rubbish footballers’) is recruiting for a celebratory trip to Leicester should they win the title.
The new hero of the page is Danny Drinkwater, who they are faux-claiming is the cousin of former Inter striker Robert Acquafresca. Right now there are 50,000 people going. Jamie Vardy might indeed be having one big party...
Most narrative about the Premier League from Germany revolves around overspending, over-valuing and the lack of English talent, so the increasing likelihood of Leicester winning the Premier League has certainly taken them by surprise.
The word Außenseiter (outsider) has never been splashed in headlines as much as it has in this year's English sections.
Simply, Germany likes that an underdog might well win the "best league in the world", that a team with players named Drinkwater, Vardy and Morgan could topple the superstars that the league is famous for, and that they have nearly delivered a story that not even Bundesliga minnows Darmstadt can match.
There is, of course, some German pride in Leicester's success. In East Berliner Robert Huth, Germany have a defender who used his "physical, English style" to be a part of their special story. There was even talk of him returning to the national team as a result, but Joachim Löw recently inferred he was near the back of the defensive queue.
Many Schalke fans have been left astounded at Christian Fuchs's resurrection, meanwhile, but don't miss him – the wing-back told BILD that the Bundesliga was boring, the Premier League was better and that he loves leaving the pitch with bruises.
Even without Jamie Vardy's story within a story (paling Germany's closest version, Gladbach's Andre Hahn), Richard III's remains or Gary Lineker's tweets, Leicester's ability to beat the best has warmed German hearts. It's even got teenagers on the bus talking about signing ‘WARDY’ and how they want him up front for their FIFA Ultimate Teams...
As far as Spanish admirers of Leicester go, they don’t get much bigger than the country’s most-capped player. The Foxes’ triumph over Southampton last weekend prompted Iker Casillas to tweet an image of Kasper Schmeichel & Co. celebrating the victory with the caption “everyone is passionate about their club, but everyone feels like Leicester are one of our own. INCREDIBLE!”
He isn’t alone in being captivated by the tale. Barcelona has been home to some of the greatest football players of all time, but even the Catalans are hooked. La Vanguardia sent a correspondent to the East Midlands in March, and the resulting piece paints a glowing picture of a multi-cultural, historic place united in its love of football.
“Leicester is the city where anything is possible,” their columnist Rafael Ramos opens, before pointing out that Claudio Ranieri’s side winning the Premier League is no less probable than discovering the missing remains of a dead king under a multi-story car park. Quite.
Plenty in Spain have made the obvious comparison between what Leicester are doing now and Atlético Madrid’s unfathomable league title win in 2013/14. El Mundo make a sobering point on that subject, highlighting that Leicester earned almost double the amount from TV rights last year as Atleti, a financial imbalance that makes surprise success stories even less likely in La Liga.
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It appears that most Norwegians see little reason to begrudge Leicester an eventual title. Prolific commentators have praised their strengths, contemplated the unlikeliness of it all, and talked up how special a title win would be: Lars Tjærnås, of Aftenposten, has said it would be the greatest footballing sensation in 50 years.
Some have also admired Leicester’s grittier qualities. After the Southampton win, Tor-Kristian Karlsen, who hired Claudio Ranieri in 2012 while working as a sporting director at Monaco, described Wes Morgan’s winner as symptomatic of what the Foxes have become: a mentally strong group who put everything on the line, and where the ethos centres on the collective.
“I find the Leicester phenomenon extremely refreshing in a time where everything seems to be about ‘me, me, me’ and individual players,” Karlsen told VG.
Before the win on Sunday, the same paper asked a group of well-known commentators whether they thought Leicester would go the distance. They did. “Leicester won’t bottle it,” said Knut Espen Svegaarden, of VG. “Why should they do so now, when they haven’t done it earlier?”
As is the case across most of the world, Leicester’s improbable Premier League title tilt has largely been met with incredulity in France.
However, while the feats of Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy have surprised many, few are as shocked to see new Bleus international N’Golo Kante heavily involved in such a heart-warming success story.
After his first call-up to Didier Deschamps’ squad for the recent friendlies against the Netherlands and Russia, plenty was written about the former US Boulogne Cote d’Opale and SM Caen man, and his steps were retraced by numerous French publications.
Former Boulogne coach Georges Tournay (Kante played for USBCO from 2010-13 in Ligue 2 and then the semi-professional Championnat National before joining Caen) recalled a quiet, simple boy with a hunger to succeed. The French tactician added that Kante would ride his scooter to training, unable to afford a car because of the amateur wages he was earning at the time.
Caen’s sporting director Alain Caveglia remembered being informed of the “small phenomenon in Boulogne” by the father of Kante’s former team-mate Damien Perrinelle, and then being immediately impressed when he finally saw him in action.
Caveglia also fondly recalled the player’s first car (a Renault Megane, which he still uses today) and the trusty backpack that was never far away at Caen.
Kante is not the sole reason for France’s keen interest in Leicester’s incredible title charge, but the success of the newly capped international and Paris-raised Algeria international Mahrez has certainly helped the fascination with this modern footballing fairy tale.
Americans love a good Cinderella story, perhaps more than anything. Our propensity to lean on hyperbole for every great achievement can sometimes grow stale, but the beauty of such underdog stories is that there is always something fresh.
Leicester City's run this season – which, at this point, truly looks set to end with a Premier League title – is in the discussion stateside as one of the greatest sports stories of all time.
The country's soccer-going fans are largely enamoured with the story, though the magnitude is a little lost on Americans, who are used to leagues which have built-in checks and balances to allow for a team like the Arizona Cardinals or Oklahoma City Thunder to contend for championships. However, much like the rest of the world, the pessimistic wait for the wheels to fall off the Foxes' run has turned into a genuine joy which is in line with Claudio Ranieri's affable persona.
You see, Cinderella in the United States is usually a 'fun while it lasted' type of story. But the idea that Leicester’s clock may not actually strike midnight after all makes for something unforgettable.
Australia isn’t exactly a football stronghold – with loyalty more to the rival codes of rugby league and Aussie Rules – but even general sports fans have been spellbound by the Leicester City story.
Former Manchester United keeper Mark Bosnich – now a TV pundit in Australia – is getting stopped in the street by non-football fans with just one question on their lips: “How?!”
Even rabid Aussie Rules fans – notorious for their derision of the round ball game – can’t get their head around how a team at 5,000-1 can be leading the competition as we go into the final straight, Bosnich says.
There’s even an Australian connection for Riyad Mahrez. His old team-mate at Le Havre, Harry Novillo, is currently ripping it up for Melbourne City (owned by Manchester City) with a Mahrez-ish 10 goals and five assists from 20 games during an injury-interrupted season in the A-League.
The pair did time together in the Le Havre reserves in 2012 after both had failed to perform at senior level… but then later both went on to shine – albeit at very different levels.
Victoria-based Leicester fan James Fazzino is struggling to explain to his mates the magnitude of it all, while general supporter Pedro Gallo found himself suddenly telling his in-laws – staunch AFL fans – the City story over a cup of tea in their front room in Melbourne… and then gave them a history lesson on Brian Clough and Nottingham Forest conquering Europe. “They loved it,” he says.
Many people around the world would feel the key factors behind Leicester City’s success this season have been Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez or Claudio Ranieri, but there is one more factor that comes all the way from Thailand.
Some Thais believe the Foxes (known as ‘Siamese Foxes’ in Thailand because of the club’s owner, Thai tycoon Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha) have been showing unbelievable performances so far because of a monk who has been playing (or is that praying?) his part.
When you consider 90% of the people in ‘The Land of Smiles’ are Buddhist – including Vichai – it’s no surprise they believe the magic of a monk could be more effective than the magic of Mahrez. In each of the past three seasons, Vichai has invited Phra Prommangkalachan, assistant abbot of the famous Temple of Golden Buddha (Wat Traimitr), to bless the players and staff members at the King Power Stadium.
The result has been promotion to the Premier League two seasons ago, surviving a relegation battle last season, and this year being potential Premier League champions. A quick check of social media in Thailand confirms that there are plenty of people who believe this lucky charm is in fact the reason behind Leicester’s unexpected success.
Others, meanwhile, have instead opted to praise Vichai and his staff for their management approach, stating the ceremonies have just been a show to provide a boost in confidence. There is a Thai saying that states “If you don’t believe it, don’t disrespect it”, and recently Phra Prommangkalachan has found another group of believers in Bangkok United Football Club.
With the start of each new European season comes the chance to watch basically every match (often at the exclusion of most others from that competition) featuring any Japanese player in one of the big leagues.
When that was Shinji Kagawa at Manchester United or Keisuke Honda at Milan, the neutrals were happy. When it was Shinji Okazaki moving to Leicester at the start of the current campaign, English football fans bemoaned the fact they’d have to sit through endless matches featuring the Foxes, to go with those at Southampton featuring Maya Yoshida.
Little could they have imagined either the remarkable run the team has gone on, or the key role Okazaki would play.
Having never won a major title either in his homeland or during four years in Germany with Stuttgart and Mainz, the forward now stands on the cusp of winning perhaps the one most coveted globally.
When the soon-to-be-30-year-old returned home for the recent World Cup qualifiers, he was feted as one of the genuine stars of the national side, not merely a supporting cast member to the likes of Honda or Kagawa. He was duly rewarded with the captaincy on the occasion of his 100th cap as Japan thrashed Syria 5-0.
The major reason behind that rise is due to his contribution at Leicester. Now when the Foxes are on, football pubs throughout the country are packed with those sudden converts to the side. Japanese fans who’d never heard of Riyad Mahrez or Jamie Vardy, let alone the likes of Christian Fuchs or N’Golo Kante, are now familiar with all these names and more.
And when it comes time for late-night Saturday football viewing, no longer are TV stations switched over throughout the land.
“No one, not even a crystal ball, would have picked them,” said one diehard Liverpool fan in Malaysia on Leicester City’s mesmerising run in the Premier League.
The back pages of Malaysian newspapers are normally dominated by Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea, but it has been the Foxes making top news of late for their improbable exploits.
The Leicester Fan Club Malaysia was formed only recently and they have more than 2,500 members. They also have a dedicated page on Facebook, but it is not yet as organised as other fan clubs here.
One fan said: “Leicester were initially touted as relegation favourites, but look where are they now. By the looks of it, the Foxes are going to be champions as they have been grinding out typical 1-0 wins … the hallmark of champions.”
Many Malaysians are now switching channels to watch matches involving Leicester on cable television, rather than the traditional big clubs. Even at 24-hour restaurants, patrons want to watch Leicester games unlike in the past, when Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea were the top picks.
Winning breeds new fans and fan clubs, and Leicester have the potential to sit among the most popular clubs in Malaysia if they continue to make an impact.
– Dhaliwal A S
Leicester’s incredible performances have started a wave of excitement among football fans in Indonesia, and driven the formation of a number of fan clubs.
At last count there were 14 different Indonesian Leicester City fan club accounts on Twitter, a clear indication that the club’s support in this country is growing and people are jumping on the bandwagon.
The same scenario happened when Manchester City rose to become one of the big top-flight clubs. People will always want to support a team that wins.
But will these fans stay when the going gets tough? If Leicester get relegated or fall short of expectations in the years ahead, will these fans still offer their support?
The Foxes’ rise this season has evolved into a story of hope and joy, especially for Indonesian football fans who have to deal with government issues in local football and the national body, culminating in a ban on both their national team and national league.
All football fans want to see change, and the Leicester City tale is one that will make all in Indonesia smile, knowing that in football anything is possible.
The winds are changing in Singapore, as a slight breeze blows towards the direction of Leicester City.
A football shop in Singapore, for one, says its current stock of Foxes shirts have sold out. Even veteran correspondent Gary Lim from Singapore’s The New Paper has been won over, stating it’s “time to treat Leicester with respect”.
“Lowly Leicester have defied logic since day one,” he penned. “They have captured the imagination of the footballing world with their fairy tale run to the summit of the world's most competitive league.”
In the past, most Singaporeans have affiliated themselves with Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United and, more recently, Chelsea or Manchester City. But there is a new kid on the block and they look set to stay in the hearts of many.
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