Tuesday, May 03, 2016

All Hail Leicester City!

I heard a story once about a horse in a race, perhaps the Derby winner, or perhaps the Derby favorite.  I'm telling the story this way without the benefit of having checked it out on Google, but the story was that the favorite was the top thoroughbred of the time, a horse at the turn of the 20th century named Man o' War.  Well, Man 'o War ran the race and lost to a longshot.  The horse's name was Upset.  Because we didn't have television or the internet or even much radio in the day, the newspapers were plentiful and the sportswriters were creative.  And, as the legend has it, the word "upset," traditionally used to mean "turn over," as in "he upset the table," took on a whole new meaning.  To upset, in a competition, is now universally used to mean to pull off a big surprise, a shocker. 

Perhaps now they should change the word again to Leicester. 

Five years ago its star goal scorer, who was 24 at the time, about mid-career for many stars in Europe, was playing in something like a fifth division Sunday beer league.  Their two other stars, even younger, were playing a few years ago either for second- or third-tier French teams.  Promoted out of the English Championship League two years ago, Leicester fought for its life to avoid relegation back to that league after last season.  The team's manager, well, Chelsea fired him twelve years ago.  As for Leicester, well, it was never going to be mentioned in the same breath as Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United or Tottenham.  No, it seemed that Leicester would be lucky to remain in the middle of the table and perennially try to avoid relegation. 

Going into the season, Leicester was a 5,000 to one shot to win the English Premier League.  To do so, it would have had to pass over those six behemoths, plus the likes of a resurging West Ham.  It would be like starting in the Round of 64 in the NCAA tournament as, say, Monmouth and beating the legends in succession -- Indiana, UCLA, North Carolina, Duke, Syracuse and Kentucky.  It would be like promoting say the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs to the National League East and having them win the World Series.   Think about that.

Leicester enjoyed none of the reputation, tradition or money of the six teams I mentioned.  But what they had was belief, heart, chemistry and a tireless work ethic.  It's amazing what a team can accomplish when no one worries about the credit because if no one worries about the credit and simply focuses on the work there ultimately could be more than enough credit to go around.  In contrast, look at Chelsea and Manchester City, owned by gazillionaires with tons to spend on payroll.  The former got old on the back line fast, looked at times rudderless and leaderless and figured out that while money helps, it cannot buy things that propel teams to victory.  The latter suffered from injuries but some of the same issues -- they got older fast, and some of their well paid stars looked overpaid by the season's end. 

It could be the case that, among others, Schmeichel, Kante, Mahrez and Vardy become so expensive that they request transfers so that they can cash in and play in the Premier League or in places like Barcelona, Madrid or Munich.  That remains to be seen.  But, in the here and now, savor this triumph, regardless of for whom you cheer.  Because this triumph is one for the ages, the stuff that a Disney script is made of except that this is true.  Older manager, not a top choice among elite squads, up-and-coming players or several players who played at Leicester because that was the best they could do, all combining to do their best to win one of the toughest soccer leagues in the world as a 5,000-1 longshot. 

Was it an upset?  You bet.

Was it a Leicester?  Extraordinarily so.

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