Should Leicester City spend in the January transfer window or stick with the squad that have got them to the top of the table?
When Leicester City owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha pledged to spend £180million to turn the Foxes into a top-five Premier League in 2014 his bold claims were, on the large, scoffed at. But after a phenomenal run of results which has seen Leicester lose just one of their last 20 Premier League games, Srivaddhanaprabha’s team are sitting pretty at the top of the Premier League.
That is the very top, not the top five, and two points clear with almost half of the season gone after dismantling the champions Chelsea at The King Power on Monday night.
It’s a position that Srivaddhanaprabha or even the staunchest Leicester fan cannot have envisaged, especially when you consider their perilous position last season. After a 2-1 defeat to Tottenham on Boxing Day last year, Nigel Pearson’s side were rock-bottom of the league and five points adrift of 19th-place.
They were dead and buried – nobody gave them a chance – but seven wins from their last nine games eventually saw them finish 14th.
Pearson’s efforts were nothing short of miraculous, but after a falling out with board he parted ways with the club and the ‘Tinkerman’ Claudio Ranieri was appointed – to much media hysteria too.
I include myself in that as well, because I gave Ranieri little hope in keeping the Leicester bandwagon rolling and earmarked him to be the first boss to be sacked.
That looks rather stupid now, but nobody could have envisaged the job that Ranieri has done, not even their optimistic billionaire owner.
The three-year plan that the owner put forward in the summer of 2014 – a top-five place within three years now looks achievable – and with a year to spare.
“We want to stay in the Premier League as long as possible,” said Srivaddhanaprabha in May 2014. “But we won’t take the huge leap to challenge the league’s top five clubs immediately.
“Do we have a chance to beat them? Yes, we have, but I think we need to establish our foothold in the league first and then we think about our next step.
“It will take a huge amount of money, possibly 10 billion Thai Baht (just under £182m), to get there. But that doesn’t put us off. I am asking for three years, and we’ll be there.
“It will be a difficult task but we have to try to do it.
“Playing in the Premier League will be another challenging task for the team and the players, but we have plans.”
A the start of the season Srivaddhanaprabha, who took control in August 2010, cannot have predicted Leicester would be in the position they currently find themselves in and that in turn could well mean a change of policy regarding transfers.
Do they spend in January or stick with the small group of players who have produced such fantastic results so far?
Ranieri has used just 16 players who have started in the Premier League and 20 players in total – the second fewest in the top flight behind struggling Swansea – hardly living up to his ‘Tinkerman’ nickname.
He has relied on a nucleus of players, the majority of which were brought into the club by his predecessor Pearson. And his faith in those players has so far been rewarded, but will he be looking to add depth to the squad, will he add players who can strengthen the first XI or sit tight and maintain the equilibrium?
They spent just over £26million in the summer on half a dozen new players and the majority of those have been huge hits. Only Gokhan Inler (£5m) and Yohan Benalouane (£5.6) have struggled to assert themselves in the first team.
Robert Huth (£3m), Christian Fuchs (free), N’Golo Kante (£5.6m) and Shinji Okakzaki (£7m) have been fantastic additions and if Srivaddhanaprabha needed assurance that the money would be spent wisely then he need look no further than the summer recruits.
Leicester, whose net spend this summer was £20million – the 10th highest in the league, spent £20m the previous summer and a quick look at the figures tells you that the Thai moneyman, who pledged to spend up to £180m in three years, might just have some money burning a hole in his pocket.
Ranieri though would surely be foolish to go all in. He would of course risk upsetting the balance and mindset of the team. Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez, Wes Morgan, Huth, Kante, Fuchs, Daniel Drinkwater, Marc Albrighton and Kasper Schmeichel have been outstanding and the potential arrival of a big-money January buy might well upset the apple cart.
Still, Ranieri’s squad is thin and injuries have yet to take their toll so far this term. Two or three setbacks to the spine of Leicester’s team could have a huge impact.
It’s a favourable dilemma for Leicester to find themselves in and he might well be tearing up the list of targets he was preparing to help the club survive, in favour of some players he believes might just help them maintain their tilt for the title – and that would be understandable.
He though, and the Leicester fans were still refreshingly humble on Monday night as the Foxes faithful chanted: “We are staying up,” after going 2-0 up on the champions.
Publically that has to be the line that Ranieri is pedalling, but the Leicester boardroom must be buoyant and pondering whether to speculate to accumulate. And, according to fabled football law it is much easier to add new players to a successful squad rather than a struggling one.
With one eye on the Champions League, it will be hugely tempting to go and spend big money in January and add two or three top-quality players. And the last thing all at The King Power would want would be post-season “ifs and buts” after suffering a dip in form which meant they finished in mid-table.
The most sensible solution would be to add some depth to the squad. That would ensure that any first-team noses are not put out of joint, while making sure they are not left short of numbers if injuries and loss of form strikes in 2016, but all that said an aggressive assault on the January transfer market would be hugely intriguing with the Premier League title there on a plate.