Bob Lethaby pays homage to the Foxes’ ‘extraordinary combination of desire, raw talent, and something to prove’.
I can remember years ago, watching a darts final on the TV featuring Eric ‘The Crafty Cockney’ Bristow and Keith Dellor, when legendary commentator, Sid Waddell, said of Dellor; “This lad’s not an underdog, he’s an underpuppy!”
The same can now be said of Leicester City football club, who, with an extraordinary combination of desire, raw talent and something to prove, have conjured up a remarkable winning formula that, in its current state, is threatening to smash through the boundaries set by the Premier League elite.
To make it a bit clearer to those of you with no particular interest in football, at the beginning of the season last August, Leicester were 5000-1 to win the league and their manager, Claudio Ranieri, was hot favourite to be the first coach to be sacked.
The general consensus was that Leicester, after a miraculous survival mission last season, were to be relegated in disarray after their previous manager, Nigel Pearson, was sacked over lurid happenings regarding his son and a trip to Thailand. All did not seem well at The King Power Stadium.
However, with a mixture of rejects, freebies and bargain basement purchases, Leicester, looking akin to a Matalan store in Savile Row, started upsetting the odds with a flying start that was only curtailed by a humbling late September thrashing (5-2) by an Arsenal side undertaking their obligatory early season task of pretending to be title contenders.
To many, that was that, Leicester’s cheeky tilt at the top was over and they could now get on with a relegation battle courtesy of the calamitous losing streak that was bound to follow. However, with Jamie Vardy (plucked from the non-league backwaters) at full throttle, October was a wonderful month, with three victories and two draws followed by two wins and a draw in November.
Leicester were playing a simple counter attacking game, utilising the raw pace and menace of Vardy and the guile of Mahrez, backed up by tireless running from the likes of Danny Drinkwater and N’Golo Kante that no-one seemed capable of extinguishing, despite knowing what was coming.
Three wins on the trot in December saw the Foxes 5 points clear at the top of the table at Christmas but a Boxing Day defeat at Liverpool saw the beginning of a minor slump and goal drought, where successive 0-0 draws versus Manchester City and frustratingly, at home to Bournemouth, saw Arsenal take the initiative. Was the dream over?
No is the answer. Three wins in four through the rest of January, an obligatory Arsenal loss of form and a stuttering Manchester City, saw Leicester regain top spot and as I write, February has seen the comprehensive demolition of Liverpool and Manchester City, who were walloped in their own back yard as the dream started looking like reality.
Of course, there is still a lot to do, Arsenal and Man City are still a threat and Tottenham, a vibrant young team blessed with stoical defence and attacking flair, are on a fine run that has seen them smoothly move into to second spot. However, every test Leicester are given, they seem to pass with aplomb.
Next week is a movers week that may well decide the outcome. Leicester visit Arsenal knowing that a win will see them looking ahead with the home straight in sight. An Arsenal win and the gap is down to two points and a Tottenham win versus Manchester City on Sunday will see them back in second spot level on points with the Gunners.
If Man City win then they are back in the race and with both City and Arsenal breathing down their necks, Leicester could then quite easily panic and capitulate, especially if they suffer key injuries to the players mentioned above.
Whatever happens, Leicester have made football interesting again as in England, everyone loves an underdog bopping the big boys on the nose and this is a first sustained assault at the top of the Premier League since Norwich had a right old go back in the early 90’s when the SKY money first came in.
It is also a reminder that if you find the right formula, desire can lead to victories, victories build confidence and confidence builds a feeling of invincibility; Leicester are going into every game thinking they are going to win and that is powerful thing, at least until the winning line is in sight.
That is when, laced with the favourites tag, the nerves inevitably set in and talk of “Doing Devon Loch” becomes inevitable; Leicester can be thankful perennial mind games bastard, Alex Ferguson, has retired from a fading Manchester United and Chelsea’s Mourinho has lost his aura and his job, courtesy of scapegoating a physiotherapist.
The omens do appear to be with them but whatever the case, Leicester can be proud that they have re-ignited interest in football to many people who just could not cope any longer with massive salaries, ludicrous ticket prices, dodgy owners and shady agents; there has been a lot about football not to like in the last 10 years or so, Leicester have done so much to restore at least some faith.
Leicester have also demonstrated to any young sportsman that with application and belief, much can be achieved against the most ludicrous odds and that has to be good news all round, unless of course, you are a supporter of one of their nearest challengers.
The Foxes have a long way to go, but while Manchester City dump a successful manager, Liverpool have unsavoury walk-outs over ticket prices and Manchester United bleat on about lack of success after 20 years of non-stop success, Leicester just get on with winning games through the simple tactic of teamwork and unquenchable spirit.
I am one of many neutrals who is loving the rise of the underpuppies!
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