Three days after Leicester City were confirmed as Premier League champions, Derek Bilton gives his take on football’s greatest ever fairytale.
And so it was on May 2, 2016 it finally came to pass. The date when football’s greatest ever fairytale became a reality. A tale so outrageous, so utterly mind-blowing and enchanting, it will ensure these folkloric fantasy characters in blue will be remembered forever.
For the first time since its inception, a team bottom of the Premier League in April 2015 will finish top of the Premier League in 2016. But that doesn’t even begin to tell the full story. Not even close. For let’s have it right here. This is not just a title win. This is a collective morality tale for the ages.
I said on these very pages back in February that the Foxes were the perfect antidote to the ‘greed is good’ mentality of football’s established order in this country. And while many are still scratching their heads and trying to comprehend how a team that cost less than £22million has defied all logic and pulled it off, Leicester City are the league champions.
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Boss Claudio Ranieri said the “heart and soul” of his players got them over the line. This is the same Claudio Ranieri who until this season had never won a league title. Always the bridesmaid but never the bride, Ranieri had previously finished second in the league in Italy (twice), France and England.
Worse still, he came to Leicester after overseeing a truly catastrophic spell in charge of the Greece national team, a spell that saw a humiliation in Athens in the shape of a 1-0 defeat to those bastions of the world game, the Faroe Islands.
Yet if he himself was suffering from a personal crisis of confidence at the end of last summer he never let it show as he set about marshalling Leicester towards the unthinkable.
And to his eternal credit he did it the right way – refusing to get bogged down in the mind games or petty mud-slinging that most modern coaches now do. This genteel and dignified Italian elder statesman simply stood tall and with a ‘Dilly ding’ here and a ‘Dilly dong’ there put his and Leicester’s name into footballing folklore.
No side has won the Premier League with such a paltry budget or such outrageous possession stats. All season long Leicester, the epitome of a lively, combative counter-attacking side, have averaged only around 40% of possession in matches. Against Manchester United on Sunday that figure was closer to 30%, but they still emerged for the Theatre of Dreams with a brilliant point.
A team of misfits who hit the front and simply refused to yield thereafter have combined to prove the doubters wrong.
Jamie Vardy, who four seasons ago was plying his trade at lowly Fleetwood (and before that as a worker in a carbon fibre factory) is now the Football Writers Player of the Year.
Riyad Mahrez, who once fled an icy St Mirren on a borrowed bike after a trial there started to go pear shaped, is the PFA Player of the Year.
And the likes of Wes Morgan, Robert Huth, Kasper Schmeichel and Danny Drinkwater will never have to buy another beer in the city for as long as they all shall live.
One of the smaller squads in the top flight, there has been precious little squad rotation, just a steely collective determination and an unrivalled mental strength. Crazy. Absolutely crazy.
The single biggest price gamble in the history of betting has been landed and the so called ‘pundits’ who doubted them can now ready themselves to eat a massive portion of humble pie apiece. The team they said couldn’t do it did do it. With two games to spare. Dilly ding Dilly dong indeed.