Even in the fevered dreams of the most optimistic Leicester fan, nobody could have predicted the drama of this season. With 9 games left and Leicester 5 points clear, the job is far from over... but the dream is slowly becoming reality. If, and it is a big if, Leicester can win the league, would this be the greatest ever story in English football?
Three seasons ago, the Foxes dominated the championship, with 103 points, and were undefeated from December to April. This time last season, Leicester were dead and buried at the bottom of the premier league table, 6 points away from safety. What has followed in the last 12 months has been remarkable, the biggest change of form in premier league history. They’ve won 26 out of the last 40 games, losing only 4. At the centre of the fairytale is Jamie Vardy; a man who’s own story is so unbelievable that it’s being adapted into a film. Alongside previously unknown players such as Kante, Okazaki, Drinkwater and Mahrez, Leicester have become the plucky underdogs, backed by most football fans in the country.
The only other comparable achievement in the Premier League would be The Invincibles of 2003/4. With stars including Henry, Bergkamp, Pires and Viera, everybody knew they were title contenders, but only Wenger predicted them to stay unbeaten. Prior to this season, this was without a shadow of a doubt the most impressive achievement in the Premier League. It is difficult to compare the two. Wenger turned a fantastic squad into something undefeatable, whereas Pearson and Ranieri turned a team bound for relegation to one destined for at least European football. Although this Arsenal side were bought for only slightly more than Liverpool paid for Andy Carroll, they still contained some expensive players in their ranks; Henry at £11 million, Bergkamp at £7.5 million and Reyes at £10.5 million. These prices look like spare change today, but you have to remember that transfer fees have rocketed since then. These players were also international stars, with all of the starting XI holding international caps for the footballing giants of Spain, Netherlands, Brazil, Germany and France amongst others.
Let’s now compare this to Leicester. Yes they spent £8 million on Leo Ulloa and £7 million on Okazaki, but the majority of their stars are inexpensive and unknown. In their squad, Drinkwater, Albrighton, Kante, Simpson and Ulloa are yet to represent their national teams. There’s also so much to love about how Leicester play their football. Whereas the Invincibles were all about possession, the Foxes are tenacious, hard-working and fantastic on the break; all the ingredients needed for a loved underdog.
So if not the Invincibles, then what? Is there anything which can best Leicester’s potential achievement? Probably the greatest post-war English Football story to date is that of Nottingham Forest in the late 1970s. Through promotion to the First Division in 1977, winning the league in 1978, and then the European cup in both 1979 and 1980, Brian Clough’s Forest cemented their names around the world. With Peter Shilton, Viv Anderson, Archie Gemmill and Trevor Francis, their squad was full of stars, although many of these joined after their promotion to the top flight.
There are still some huge similarities, with a team gaining promotion, followed by (potentially) winning the league a short while later. I think the major difference comes with the changes in football. Football was not the same industry back then as it is today. Players from around the world were not being bought for gigantic sums of money and it was much more difficult to buy your way to a league title. It only takes a look into the deep, deep pockets of Real Madrid and Barcelona to see how things have changed. There are a lot of similarities between the Leicester of today, and the Forest of yester-year... but it is much harder to do it now than it was back then.
Maybe it is because I wasn’t around in the 1970s, and only 8 years old for the Invincibles, but I simply cannot look past this potential title as the greatest thing in English footballing history. In the modern game, a team of unknown stars playing with passion and boundless energy, not spurred on by pay checks and sponsorships, and most importantly, playing the Mike Bassett classic four-four-flipping-two, is something magical to be hold.
Please, oh please let Leicester win the title. Just this once let football win.