If the old adage that one should never meet their heroes rings true, then Leicester City has met their’s this season in Claudio Ranieri. After completing an almost impossible feat, at odds of 5000/1 Leicester City showed so many that it was possible to dream and to achieve the unachievable.
They did something no team outside of Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, and Chelsea have done since the mid-90s, when Kenny Dalglish led Blackburn to a one-point finish ahead of Manchester United to win the league. Blackburn much like, Leicester in 2012/13, had only been promoted to the top flight of English football ahead of the inaugural Premier League season of 1992/93.
Blackburn’s downfall the following year to finish in seventh has only been repeated once since, by Man United following Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure. After their victory of the 2012/13 season, they went on to finish at a paltry seventh under David Moyes. Chelsea went one better after winning the 2014/15 league title with Jose Mourinho, finishing 10th last season. Leicester though look set to surpass Blackburn, United, and Chelsea, by having the worst ever season of Premier League champions defending their title. If they are to be relegated, they will be the second ever team since Manchester City in the seasons between 1936-38, to win the top flight of English football only to be relegated the following season.
Many in Leicester will be forever grateful for the 2015/16 season that Ranieri and company have given them. Many more will ask how it could go so calamitously wrong. One suggestion may be that it never was right in the first place.
Leicester finished top on 81 points, the lowest total for any champion in six seasons. Manchester United finished the 2010/11 season on 80 points. While second place Arsenal finished on 71 points last season, the only season to have a team with a lower total on second place was when Arsenal finished on 70 points behind champions Manchester United in the 2000/01 season.
Leicester scored just 68 goals on their way to winning the Premier League; a total not good enough to win the League since the 2008/09 season when Manchester United scored just 68 goals yet obtained a total of 90 points.
Leicester won just 23 of their 38 games, again a tally not good enough to win the League for the previous five seasons. It was Manchester United who last won the League with just 23 wins, in the 2010/11 season.
While the stats may confirm that Alex Ferguson was capable of winning titles with average teams during average seasons, they also show he was capable of winning them with average teams during exceptional seasons. Nobody would deny that the last title Fergie won with United was won by his most average side. However, that season United won 28, drew five and lost five. They scored a total of 83 goals and finished on 89 points, eight points ahead of Ranieri’s side last season.
Every now and again in sport an anomaly occurs where the totally unexpected happens. It seems all the conditions combine to force something unique. However, we can safely class these moments as “one hit wonders”, a “flash in the pan”, most often, a “fluke”. Japan’s victory over South Africa in the 2015 Rugby World Cup, Greece’s triumph at Euro 2004, and now Leicester City’s Premier League win of 2016.
Ranieri has had a somewhat successful career. In the 1980’s he led Cagliari from Serie C1 to Serie A in successive seasons. He has had cup success with Fiorentina, Valencia, and led Monaco to promotion as well as Fiorentina. However, he suffered disastrous results elsewhere, including a run with Internazionale which saw them win just two games out of 13.
Ranieri ventured into international management with Greece in 2014; however, his international career was short lived as he was sacked just four months after taking charge. A 1-0 loss to the Faroe Islands sealed his fate.
True champions defend and retain their title. Great champions take it back after losing it. Leicester City are neither. They simply got lucky. The Foxes are the 16th team to be managed by Ranieri, and the first team to experience top flight success under his stewardship. At the age of 65, with so much experience, it’s questionable that he hasn’t experienced any major success before now.
Still though, his achievement with Leicester will mean he will always have iconic status at the club, in spite of the fact that they now stare down the barrel of relegation. Claudio has succeeded in giving Leicester fans something that most will never experience again.
If Ranieri will be a hero for all those Leicester City fans, for the rest of us, he will always be remembered as a flash in the pan. Dilly-Ding, Dilly-Dong.