Leicester City’s rise from dead last in the Premier League to top of the table in 17 months is something that even the greatest of writers could not come up with. On May 2, the impossible dream became a reality when a late Chelsea equalizer against Tottenham pushed unlikely Leicester City from champion hopefuls to 2016 Premier League Champions for the first time in their 132-year club history.
How did the Foxes achieve this incredible Cinderella story? To understand how far Leicester City has come in just three short years, we should take a look back at how they’ve gotten here.
The Leicester City story began on May 3, 2014, in the Football League Championship, when the Foxes were officially promoted to the Premier League following the final game of the 2013-14 season. A 102-point season had Leicester back in the Premier League for the first time in over a decade.
A big moment for the Foxes had fans immediately looking forward, wondering how this club could hang around the Premier League for more than one year, unlike their last go around in 2003-04 when the Foxes were one-and-done in the Premier League after finishing 18th overall.
When the 2014-15 season started to play out, things turned very sour for the Foxes at a rapid pace. After 18 matches, Leicester City had racked up an uninspiring 12 losses, along with only two wins. Leicester would settle into dead last at the bottom of the Premier League table at the end of November and as the end of the season rapidly approached, relegation seemed inevitable. Leicester grabbed their 18th loss of the season in the 29th week (of 38 total weeks), and then something changed about this club forever. They suddenly could not be beat.
Once a certain lock for relegation back to the League Championship, Leicester would finish off their final nine matches with a 7-1-1 record. This elevated the Foxes to a 14th place finish, and another guaranteed year in England’s top-tier soccer league.
Many thought this late season run was one of the greatest stories the Premier League had seen, if only people had knew what was about to unfold.
A rag-tag group of outcasts and players who most never expected to be Premier League regulars hit the ground running last August. This Leicester City squad never fell lower than 6th in the Premier League table, which happened in Week 7.
When the season concludes in two weeks, Leicester City will have spent 25 of 38 weeks atop the Premier League table, after spending 21 of 38 weeks last season in the relegation zone.
The adjustments started at the top with Claudio Ranieri, who is in his first year as manager of Leicester City. Ranieri has long been lauded as one of soccer’s better minds, but his hiring was slammed as “an uninspiring choice” by Leicester City legend Gary Lineker. This season marked Ranieri’s first season back in the Premier League since May 2004, when he was fired by Chelsea. Only fitting Ranieri’s former squad helped him wrap up his first Premier League Championship.
Ranieri’s style of coaching could have rubbed this squad the wrong way but at the end of the day, it appears that Ranieri just knew how to push all the right buttons with all the talent this squad possessed.
Another intriguing storyline for this fantastic squad has been the evolution of Riyad Mahrez. A Leicester City scout spotted Mahrez while he was playing for Le Havre in the second level of French football. Needless to say, this signing was almost like a needle in a haystack. In 35 appearances this season, Mahrez has scored 17 goals and tallied eleven assists, which earned him the honors of being named the PFA Players’ Player of the Year.
Arguably the largest story of this Leicester City squad has been the emergence of Jamie Vardy as one of the Premier League’s premier players. Jamie Vardy entered the season with 25 combined goals for Leicester over three seasons (97 appearances) in two different leagues. Vardy has scored 22 goals this season in 34 appearances and has certain proven himself to be the linchpin to this squad’s offense. He also made the football world aware of his talent when he set a Premier League record after scoring a goal in eleven straight matches.
The story that Jamie Vardy brings to the table is absolutely incredible as well. He signed with Leicester City at age 25 for one million pounds out of Fleetwood Town of League One, third-tier English football. This signing allowed Vardy to quit his job as a technician making medical splints.
Not every success story is a complete success though. Vardy has been somewhat of a lightning rod the past few seasons ranging from a recent suspension for verbally abusing a referee to the controversy that developed last August when videos emerged of Vardy racially abusing a Japanese man at a local casino. Vardy has since apologized for his actions, but the damage has clearly been done for Vardy’s reputation.
Other brilliant offseason acquisitions sprinkled throughout the club’s roster made just as big of an impact that Ranieri, Mahrez and Vardy have had.
Christian Fuchs was acquired on a free transfer. Robert Huth brought over for three million pounds. Shinji Okazaki cost the club seven million pounds and has been worth every pound. It does not only take the big stars, but the key reserves and other pieces to the puzzle that keep the machine working smooth as a whole.
On April 17, 2015, Leicester City occupied the last place in the Premier League table. On May 2, 2016, the Foxes clinched the Premier League Championship.
Heading into the 2015-16 season, Leicester City was given 5,000-to-1 odds to win the Premier League Championship. Those same odds belong to someone spotting Elvis Presley alive. Clearly, Leicester was in some very rarefied air.
This Saturday, Leicester City will hoist the Premier League Championship at King Power Stadium in the squad’s final home game of the year, becoming only the sixth team ever in league history to win the title.
Thanks to my wonderful English friend Elizabeth, a lifelong Foxes supporter, I myself have been a fan of Leicester City for a three years now. It has been incredible to watch this squad develop into champions right before my eyes. I have had the pleasure of witnessing two championship winning Leicester City clubs. Many life-long football fans tell me how lucky of a fan I am to be experiencing this incredible run, and I honestly struggle putting it into words. Watching the Foxes rack up win after win, as their magic number decreased, I waited for the bottom fall out. Curse of being a pessimistic sports fan, I suppose. When that Eden Hazard goal went in on Monday afternoon at Stamford Bridge, I almost lost it. I felt my eyes welling up. It finally hit me that I had been witnessing one of the greatest sports stories ever.
This season, coupled with last year’s improbable avoidance of relegation, will go down in football lore. To further illustrate how improbable this run as been, Leicester City has captured 99 of 135 available points in their last 45 matches. The story of the never-say-die Leicester City Foxes will be told for many decades to come as arguably the greatest upset we have ever witnessed in sports.
Leicester City. Champions of England. pic.twitter.com/WRwfysTn2N
— Leicester City (@LCFC) May 2, 2016
Indeed, the Leicester City Foxes are forever the 2016 Premier League Champions and the Champions of England.