The Leicester message: Dare to dream

Not since Blackburn Rovers won the English Premier League 21 years ago did this seem possible. Leicester City have not just upturned the record books and the betting markets but probably the world football order as well.

Leicester City

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A series of monumental events in the 1990's brought about what we, until Leicester’s insurrection, thought was the modern world order that would last for a hundred years.

The first was the collapse of European communism and the end of dictatorships in the Soviet sphere and Yugoslavia. Suddenly professional footballers were free to move from their home countries to seek richer contracts in the West.

Then came the birth of the English Premier League which gave England’s top clubs independent control of their own commercial destiny. Soon the EPL model was duplicated in most other European countries. This translated to enormous volumes of new money coming to the clubs, mostly via broadcasting revenues.

Next came the birth of the UEFA Champions League, also in 1992, in response to threats from Europe’s richest clubs to form a so-called European Super League. This in turn translated to yet more riches for the most successful clubs.

Finally came the famous Bosman Ruling in 1995 when the European Court of Justice determined that players could freely leave their clubs once they were out of contract under the European Union’s freedom of labour laws.

This put an end to foreign player quotas, at least in Europe, and delivered the best players to the richest clubs who could afford to pay them.

The competition for access to quality players intensified, spiralling wages to astronomical levels, in turn marginalising and numbing the ambitions of the less rich clubs.

These developments also brought into the European game rich investors, often foreign, who bought controlling interests in clubs either out of commercial speculation or pure personal vanity and ego.

What we ended up with was a reality whereby, simply, the rich were getting richer and the poor were getting poorer. And we accepted this as the entrenched new order about which little could be done.

Until Leicester City came along.

So how did this happen? How and why did this seismic shift in the established terrain dare to take place?

Quite apart from the obvious fact that Leicester played well throughout and were well managed by Claudio Raineri, there were a number of other factors.

One was that the traditional giants, those four clubs who shared the premiership in the last 21 years, all under-performed. As I write Arsenal are running third, Manchester City fourth, Manchester United fifth, Chelsea ninth. This left a vacuum in the chase for the top, filled in by Leicester and to a lesser extent by Tottenham Hotspur.  

Another possible contributor was UEFA’s still new Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulation. Sure, it might be premature to credit FFP with Leicester’s success. But the rule which precludes super rich clubs from paying insane, commercially non-viable player salaries may have had something to do with it.

A truism that was established by Leicester this season is that, if you want results, buying players astutely is better than buying them recklessly big for the sake of it. It’s a lesson to be learnt by the other clubs.

A modest squad, such as Leicester City’s, also meant there were no giant egos to contend with and the dressing room was more easily managed.

Leicester were also, in a sense, lucky that they had no Cup distractions. This gave the players plenty of rest time between games and there was virtually no player rotation. Leicester used the same players in the same positions in more games than any other club.

The question now is whether Leicester can do something similar next season. The pressure of expectation will be high. Leicester will now be in the Champions League and will have a new start in the domestic Cup competitions.

But, fuelled by a remarkable level of self-belief, Leicester will go into the new season with confidence. As they should.

What they have managed this season is to demonstrate that football remains the most beautifully unpredictable game. A game in which all things are still possible provided you dare to dream.

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4 min read
Published 9 May 2016 at 12:23pm
By Les Murray