Leicester City are unique, a one-off – but the most stunning champions of England in Premier League history are the real deal
The Foxes have soul and spirit ... and that can’t be mass-produced, marketed and sold for a profit
Leicester’s unlikely rise to the top of English football is being held up in business schools as a lesson on how to achieve victory against overwhelming odds.
Earnest MBA students want to know what makes the Foxes winners and how their overachieving formula can be copied, and no doubt then mass-produced, marketed and sold for a profit.
Some analysts claimed Leicester used the “Money Ball” formula that saw the cash-strapped Oakland Athletics put together a motley Major League Baseball team in 2002 by exploiting an inefficient transfer market in which undervalued players could be bought for a song and go on to win against all odds.
True, Leicester’s squad cost a fraction of their rivals, £54 million (HK$606 million), compared with nearest rivals Tottenham at £161 million and Manchester City’s £418 million, and their wage bill is minuscule compared with the handful of top clubs who have won the title over the last 40 years.
They certainly picked a perfect year in which to give the world-weary a rare fairy tale with which we can all identify and rejoice in.
The elite clubs have been in disarray, firing, hiring – and in Arsenal’s case, sticking with - the wrong managers, while overpaid, egotistical players have been doing what they do best, behaving badly and underperforming.
The time was ripe for a ceiling-busting achievement by a lesser team. But did anyone expect serial underachieving nobodies Leicester, last’s year relegation escapees who many predicted were doomed to the drop this season, to be history-makers?
According to the academics deconstructing Claudio Ranieri and his men’s success, Leicester claimed the crown because unlike the top teams who prefer to keep the ball and build their approach to scoring, the Foxes hate possession, opting to shoot as soon the goal comes within range.
This, note the boffins, they became very good at, with the likes of hitherto unknown sprinting counter-attackers Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez scoring not only with aplomb but often: 33 per cent of the team’s total shots come from counter-attacks.
The team are also adept at breaking up their opponents’ attacks, personified in midfielder N’golo Kante, who, according to the stats, made more tackles than any other European player in the last campaign and will likely do so again in this one: the joke of the season is “75 per cent of the world is covered by water, the rest by Kante”.
The number-crunching is all very well and statistics can be found to suit any conclusion.
The classroom exploration of Leicester’s success and attempts to teach going from 5,000-1 losers to Premier League top dogs to future CEOs, rather miss the point, however.
What the financial academics fail to grasp is the oxymoron their study of, and desire to replicate, Leicester’s winning formula exposes: authenticity and uniqueness cannot be taught because if they could, they would cease to be.
Leicester are the real deal. They are unique, a one-off. Their remarkable, inspiring achievement cannot be carbon-copied, bottled and flogged in shops and lecture halls and how-to books, because the compound that saw them triumph is an unknown commodity found only in sport.
Viewers of the popular Breaking Bad series will recall the episode in which the chemistry teacher-turned-drug-dealing gangster Walter White, writes down the periodic chemicals that make up humans: H2O, hydrogen, nitrogen, sodium and so on.
But he notes with wonder the missing 0.5 per cent that completes the magic. “Soul?” or spirit perhaps, he muses.
Scientists and academics will dismiss this romantic notion of the unseen, unfathomable element of the anima.
But to supporters, Leicester have displayed what many believed had been long lost among the petrodollars, TV revenues, egos and oligarch owners – the game’s soul, spirit, psyche. Call it what you will, Ranieri and his men have plenty of it.
Faith, idealism, optimism and romance are also vital ingredients in this audacious story, as is selflessness – players grafting for the team and not themselves, because as many of the elite clubs have found out, self-interest can diminish a squad.
Leicester, in the third tier not so long ago, now stand at the top of the most celebrated sports league on the planet thanks to their sui generis team spirit.
In truth, supporters don’t know nor care how a motley crew of second-rate footballers from Nowhereville took ownership of the most coveted domestic prize in football.
What we do know is that in return they have given back all that we love about sport.