THE TALON

5000 to 1: Leicester City’s Rise to Power

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There will always be the debate about the most miraculous sports story ever, but the best and most recent claim occurred across the pond. In England, there isn’t any baseball, basketball, or football leagues; there’s just soccer. All eyes are tuned every weekend to watch their hometown soccer club go at it.

Soccer over there is different than any other major sport here because, well, the regular season is actually important in English soccer. In fact, there is no postseason in European soccer leagues at all; after a certain number of games played, the team with the most points (3 for a win, 1 for a draw, and 0 for a loss) wins the title. Additionally, there is no salary cap or hard cap for soccer clubs, so any team can simply be taken over by a millionaire, and buy whatever players they want. There is very little trading of players in soccer, but rather other, usually bigger clubs pay a fee for the player they want to acquire. Therefore, the biggest, most expensive clubs are usually the only real competitors in each league, and there is hardly any parity in soccer. Also, there is only major league in each country, so each year the bottom 3 teams from the top league get relegated to the second league, while the top 3 teams from the second league get promoted to the top league. With that background information in mind, let’s focus on a small club about 100 miles north of the capital, London.

Leicester City Football Club was founded by a group of friends in a factory in 1884, and within just 40 years of the forming of the club, Leicester finished in second place in the top flight league in England. Later, the club fell on hard times at the end of 20th century, and reasons including a financial crisis and a complete takeover of the club caused them to fall all the way to Football League 1, the third league in England, in 2009. After being promoted back to the Football Championship, the second league in England, the following year, Leicester managed to stay in the second league and gained the reputation as a team on the brink of the sought after Barclay’s Premier League. In 2013, Leicester City managed a top 6 finish in the Championship, giving them a place in a four team playoff to determine who would be the final promoted team the Premier League the following. In the playoff semifinal, Leicester earned a penalty in the 93′ with the score level at 2 a piece. It seemed inevitable that the Foxes, as they are nicknamed, would move on to the Playoff Final. But, Leicester’s captain had his penalty kick saved, and the opposition stormed down the pitch and scored a winner on the last kick of the game. Despite the devastation, Leicester City finished second the following year and earned promotion back to the top flight league for the first time since 2004.

However, Leicester’s long awaited return to the Premiership was not as exciting as they had hoped. On April 3, 2015, the Foxes were 7 points off from safety, in last place, and it appeared more than likely that they would be relegated back to the Championship. Then, what some consider to be the most improbable sports story ever began. Leicester went on to win 7 of their last 9 games that season, and finished an impressive three spots above relegation. Yet, despite staving off relegation, many critics felt it was only a matter of time before the Foxes would be back in the championship.

So, the Foxes did what any underdog does, and proved the critics wrong. Leicester City opened the 2015-16 season with average form, but were well off the top a month or two into the season. Then, their time came. Premier League giants like Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, and Arsenal fell upon hard times of mediocrity and inconsistency. Leicester saw the opportunity and seized it. By Christmas Day 2015, Leicester City were atop the BPL, after being bottom last Christmas. Other teams made runs at the Foxes’ top spot, but Leicester’s consistency were unparalleled. In fact, Leicester City stringed together a 4 game stretch of 1-0 wins to pull away from the rest. Then, after the Foxes earned a draw at Manchester United and second place Tottenham dropped points to Chelsea, Leicester City clinched the BPL Title. If you want to know just how much this mattered to Leicester, Foxes’ fullback Christian Fuchs, one of the many breakout stars of this team recorded the team’s celebration after the game ended.

http://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/row-zed/watch-moment-leicester-city-players-7883219

Also, here is the bar Leicester City supporters were at when the Foxes’ dreams came true.

http://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/row-zed/watch-leicester-city-fans-go-7875291

 

Now, let’s move on to some of the great stories of the stars of Leicester City. In soccer, it all starts up top. Every successful team has a star striker, and Leicester are no different. 28 year old Jamie Vardy has a chance this weekend to win the BPL Golden Boot as the top scorer this year. What’s so incredible about that is that he was working in a factory to help support his soccer career just a few years ago and now he is one of the best English players in the world. His combination of pace, physicality, and composure in front of goal led the way for the Foxes. Vardy went on a streak earlier this year where he scored in 11 consecutive games, a Premier League record. However, Vardy wasn’t alone on the attack as he played alongside, Player of the Year Riyad Mahrez. After some underwhelming years in the French league, Mahrez looked like another bust. But a move to Leicester in January 2014 resurrected his career. Mahrez finished the year with 17 goals and 11 assists, and was one of only a handful of players in a top league to finish the year in double digits in goals and assists. However, the final piece of this breakout trio is my personal favorite, center midfielder N’Golo Kante. The superlatives for this 24 year old Frenchman go on and on. He seemingly sprints all over the entire pitch for a full 90 minutes, winning the ball back and finding passes through Vardy and Mahrez. Many have said he is the glue that keeps this team together. And what is most surprising about Kante’s success this year is that just 5 years ago, he was playing in the 8th league in France! This trio combined with an organized and focused defense was the key to Leicester’s success.

To put all this into perspective, let’s go back to the 5000:1 odds Leicester had to win the title heading into this year. Comparatively, the Philadelphia 76er’s, the far and away worst team in the NBA, were given 400:1 odds. Essentially this is like a team of D-League players beating the Warriors, or a single-A team beating the Yankees, or an average college football team beating the Patriots. Which leads me to the next debate, is Leicester City the greatest underdog story ever? Given the circumstances, in my opinion it is.

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