Leicester City are 13 games away from pulling off the biggest sports betting wager in history. Derek Bilton looks at how they’ve shaken the established order of football.
Another weekend, another win for Leicester City, who are morphing from a moderately successful football club to a collective morality tale for the ages.
We all know what happened when David took on Goliath, the giant, seemingly unbeatable Philistine warrior. It is after all the greatest underdog story ever told. Perhaps until now.
Paddy Power and Joe Coral weren’t around in those days of course but I’ll wager if they were they wouldn’t have installed David, the future king of Israel, as a 5000/1 chance to get the win. That is the price Leicester were in the betting at the start of the 2015/16 season. Just let that sink in for a moment. 5000/1.
They are now favourites with most bookies’ after Saturday’s brilliant 3-1 win at Manchester City and if they pull off the improbable, nay impossible, they will be the single biggest priced winners in the history of gambling. Ever. To put it into context, James ‘Buster’ Douglas was a mere 42/1 in the betting the night he rewrote boxing history by handing ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson his first professional defeat.
Most of the country are now willing the Foxes on of course and this has everything to do with our innate inclination to back the underdog in such circumstances. But there’s more to it than that. If Leicester win the Premier League it will surely be the most seismic shock in sports history. A year ago this very week they were bottom of the league, four points from safety and favourites for a return to the Championship. Yet seven win from their last nine games meant they stayed up with a bit to spare in the end.
They are now top of the richest league in the world despite putting out a team that cost less than £22million. They are the antidote to the ‘greed is good’ mentality of the Premier League, and living proof that a shrewd recruitment policy and indomitable team spirit can trump teams with seemingly limitless resources. There is something refreshingly honest about this Leicester side.
They are certainly not lacking in skill (see Riyad Mahrez), pace (Jamie Vardy) or controlled aggression (diminutive midfield pillager N’Golo Kante) but when you watch this team it becomes glaringly obvious that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Their collective displays, such as at the Etihad on Saturday, have been remarkable. And with every goal scored and win bagged they are shaking the established order of football in this country to its very foundations.
Every week the Sky pundits are asked whether the Leicester bubble is about to burst, and every week almost to a man the likes of Paul Merson, Matt Le Tissier and others launch into some patronising diatribe about how well the Foxes are performing before concluding that Manchester City, Spurs or Arsenal will end up overhauling them.
But will they though? Curiously neither Man City, Spurs or Arsenal did any significant business in the January transfer window. So right now their superior financial muscle becomes nil and void. Manuel Pellegrini’s side look a shambles at the back without Vincent Kompany, Spurs may live to regret not signing a striker to ease the burden on Harry Kane while Arsenal have struggled for goals so far in 2016 and heavily over reliant on Olivier Giroud up top.
Then there’s the respective run ins of the top four. After this weekend when Leicester go to Arsenal they have a fairly straightforward set of fixtures and its difficult to see them not picking up positive results at home against the likes of Norwich, West Brom, Newcastle and Swansea.
This season, hands down, has been the craziest in the history of the Premier League and it’s wonderful that we have such a thrilling title race to look forward to. But for me the Foxes are big favourites now. They have been out-performing, out-hustling and out-playing teams all season and the fact they don’t have any other distractions and will be largely playing Saturday to Saturday until the end of the season means their squad, which is not the biggest, should be able to cope.
They are top of the league on merit and are oozing self belief. Journeymen like Robert Huth are suddenly playing like world beaters and it’s almost too much to take in.
This is truly once-in-a-lifetime territory for ‘plucky’ Leicester but it feels like the stars are aligning.
Young David showed all those years ago that there’s an art to battling Giants. Leicester now have the blueprint and Claudio Ranieri’s ‘slingers’ have the ability and more importantly the self belief to defy modern wisdom and write their names into immortality.
By Derek Bilton