Sunday, 10 April 2016

Come on Leicester

Unless you're a Nottingham Forest or Spurs fan you're probably hoping that Leicester City pull off the impossible by winning this season's Premier League.

This is looking more likely following Leicester's 2-0 win today away at Sunderland which leaves them 7 points clear of Tottenham with only 6 games of the season left.

If Leicester win the Premier League it will be the greatest achievement in modern English football history! There's simply no precedent for it. A team that in the space of 18 months have been transformed from relegation certainties to virtual Premier League Champions.

What makes Leicester's story so remarkable is that this simply wasn't meant to happen. The advent of the Premier League followed by the growth of the Champions League meant that mid ranking provincial clubs like Leicester could never compete with the big clubs.

If you want to find the nearest comparison to what Leicester are potentially about to achieve, you have to go back to the 1970s.

Unfashionable Derby County won the league for the first time in 1972 under Brian Clough and again in 1975 under Dave Mackay. In 1978 Nottingham Forest (managed again by Clough) won the league in their first season after gaining promotion from the old Second Division.

The difference between the 70s and now is that there wasn't as much money in the game. The traditional big city clubs couldn't dominate in the way they have done during the Premier League era.

So how do you explain Leicester's success?


The money in the Premier League has created a more level playing field

When the Premier League was created it was partly to ensure that the big clubs could maximise revenues generated from the game. The increased revenue from TV rights allowed big clubs like Man Utd, Arsenal, Chelsea, to dominate the league consistently which is what they've done for the last 25 years.

This season things have started to change. The improved television deals have now meant that mid ranking and smaller clubs now have enough money to buy top players from bigger European clubs and compete with the Premier League's traditional powers. They also are no longer under pressure to sell their better players to raise cash.

In the Premier League, the likes of Stoke, Southampton, Swansea, and Watford can pay bigger salaries than genuine big European clubs such as Marseilles in France or the big clubs in Italy or Spain. There's a limit to how many players any one club can have.

The very best players in the world play for Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich. England's big clubs now face a new challenge of mid ranking clubs buying players who in previous eras would have been playing for big European clubs.

It's ended up leveling the playing field which is possibly an unintended consequence of more tv money coming into the Premier League.


The complacency of the big clubs

Leicester's achievement this season is a big wake-up call for the big clubs. For too long they assumed that the so called natural order could never be disturbed. Their wealth and continued presence in the Champions League meant that they never had to think that smaller clubs could ever threaten them.

What Leicester have done and other clubs like West Ham, Watford and Bournemouth have shown that money can only take you so far. Creating a winning and successful team is about recruitment, picking the right type of players, team work and tactics.

Leicester's recruitment in recent years has been superb. How many clubs would have taken a chance on a player like Jamie Vardy who until a few years ago was still playing non league or Riyad Mahrez, plucked from French football obscurity!

Manchester United's Chief Executive summed up the thinking of the big clubs when he said in response to questions on why Leicester were performing so well on such a small budget:

"where there is a bit more pressure perhaps on some of the bigger clubs to bring in players that are going to be hitting the ground running and top players verging on world class almost immediately"

There's nothing stopping clubs like Man Utd buying unheralded players and developing talent but there's this idea that they have to buy players at the very peak or coming close to it immediately. Why?

Leicester's success proves you can pick up unheard of players and developing them into star players. The attitude of big clubs is one where they don't want to do this. One exception is Barcelona and their youth policy but look at Chelsea. Their youth teams continually win trophies but none of their young players ever seem to get the chance to progress into the first team.

On a separate note, earlier this week, I was looking through some of my old Birmingham City programmes and came across the Leicester City Programme from the game I went to at Leicester in March 2012. It's amazing to see names like Wes Morgan and Danny Drinkwater in Leicester's squad.

Leicester missed out on the playoffs that season but those type of players have progressed and improved and that team spirit has been vital to Leicester's success.

Will Leicester be a one off?

Quite possibly. Leicester may finish mid-table next season but I don't think it matters. What Leicester have done is give hope and inspiration to about 97% of clubs in the country.

They are reminding us that success in football doesn't just have to be about how much you pay in transfer fees and player wages. You don't necessarily need billions to compete.

Forgotten virtues like team spirit, clever recruitment, mixed in with tactics that get the best out of the players available reminds us that there's a chance for all us and that's why everyone so wants Leicester to win the league.

Come on Leicester!



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