Part of Football Folklore
5000-1 winners, as they are being called, from being no one to England champions, the journey of Leicester City has been nothing short of an untamed madness. Just like Leicester fan, Andrew Stevenson wrote on Facebook, “Greatest sporting story ever told! They've put the romance back in modern day football,” the Foxes have engraved their name in footballing history.
Leicester City created history through a playing system that was almost in the old leaf of football. The system was brought in by Claudio Ranieri, Leicester’s coach, who was appointed in July 2015. His appointment was dubbed as a huge gamble, taken by the club’s administration. Ranieri wasn’t known to be a very consistent manager.
In his entire career, the maximum time he had spent with a club was with Chelsea from 2000-2004, rest he had mostly spend a year or two with. Ranieri, during his time at Chelsea, was responsible for inducting and nurturing players like Frank Lampard and John Terry, who are both football legends today.
Ranieri favoured the 4-4-2 formation where the wingers supply crosses to the strikers. The system that goes back to the times of young Ryan Giggs, was revived by Claudio to suit his players’ strength and pace and to take advantage of the weaknesses of the opponents. Of course, like all tactical systems, the formation changed shapes during games but Leicester built a compact 4-4-2 formation, keeping their defence stable. Their midfielders got more of the ball and their strikers could stay upfront due to the backing they had.
Ranieri also focused more on training the players in order to make the best of the formation and breach the opponents’ defence wall. Jamie Vardy at the head of their attack and Shinji Okazaki beside him, became a deadly combination. Both Vardy and Okazaki are energetic and speedy. While Okazaki linked the play, won the ball up the pitch and lent invaluable support, Vardy proved to be an accurate striker. The system of the two forwards breaks the defence into two, creating more chances of the goal.
Jamie Vardy came to Leicester City from Fleetwood Town in 2012 when it was not a part of the Premier League. He had a good record in his previous clubs and despite having a poor first season at Leicester, he changed his fortunes from his second innings and established himself as a prolific scorer in the side. What makes Vardy precious is his high work rate, persistent running and direct approach. He is a composed finisher and very accurate with his strikes.
England coach Gary Neville said, “He sets the tempo and the tone for the rest of the team and gives no other player any excuse for not working hard.” Vardy proved to be indispensable for the team scoring in eleven consecutive Premier League games, thus breaking Ruud van Nistelrooy’s record and consequentially, was voted as the FWA Footballer of the Year 2015-16.
Just like Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid, Ranieri built a strong defence. Having Danny Simpson and Christian Fuchs as full-backs greatly helped Ranieri achieve a solid back line. While Fuchs has a very disciplined approach to attacking, Simpson rarely ventured forward allowing Riyad Mahrez to stay forward on the right. Also, the packed back line helped the centre-backs Robert Huth and captain Wes Morgan command the box and fight aerial battles.
Leicester shave taken a very interesting approach from the Pep Guardiola era at Barcelona and focusing the play on one side of the pitch to set up the opposite wing for attack. In this approach, the game mostly happens on one wing, the defending team moves more players on that side leaving the other wing unmarked. In such a situation, a single switch of play leaves the opposite wing players to do the deed. This is exactly where Riyad Mahrez proved to be most useful.
Mahrez is an Algerian national who arrived at Leicester in 2014. Playing on the right wing, he started the Premier League (2015-16) with four goals in four games. He continued his excellent form and proved to be a key player in Leicester’s success story. As the Foxes won the coveted prize of England, Mahrez won the PFA Players’ Player of the Year award becoming the first African to have received the accolade.
Leicester showcased passion and intensity that no other team could match. Without bothering about the possession percentage, what made the team work was their agility and pace. Coming from a season where consecutive wins helped them escape relegation, the players had the belief and zeal within to produce exhilarating footballing experiences. Leicester City was a team that had an on and off appearance in the Premier League and mostly faced relegation within a year itself. Such a team, under Nigel Pearson, developed their momentum, such that, they not only escaped relegation but won consecutive games.
A team’s success is mostly attributed to its players and its manager while the rest of the staff remains unnamed and become the unsung heroes of the team. Leicester’s support staff consists of Steve Walsh, Craig Shakespeare, Paolo Benetti, Andrea Azzalin, Matt Reeves, Mike Stowell along with many others. While Walsh and Benetti had already worked with Ranieri, Craig Shakespeare had a close rapport with the players and used to be at the training ground along with the players.
Matt Reeves is Leicester’s head of fitness and conditioning and Mike Stowell is the goalkeeping coach.A goalkeeper is said to be the last wall of a team’s defence but what if the goalkeeper also becomes one of the playmakers? Mike Stowell did exactly that with Kasper Schmeichel, the goalkeeper of Leicester City. On record, Schmeichel has created five chances for his teammates this season which is the highest number this season. He’s been a vital factor in Leicester’s expeditious counter-attacks. Many a times, his immediate passing or throwing have directly reflected on Leicester’s scoreboard.
It’s been a repeated story of leagues that teams who begin great often falter mid-way or towards the end, usually owing to fatigue and injuries in players. Leicester’s record of the Premier League 2015-2016 shows that there have hardly been any injuries to the players, saying a lot about the staff working on the player's fitness.
Leicester players have been lauded for their fitness level and high energy. Reeves, along with Azzalin, has worked really hard, behind the scenes, to trigger the kind of phenomenal performances the players have produced.
Ranieri revealed that he trained his boys in a manner that would keep them fresh and fit. He applied the Italian way and gave his players an off on Sundays after they had played on Saturdays.
As Christian Fuchs lifted the Premier League trophy, he described the Leicester fans as the best in the world. The Blue Army sold out every single game, home or away, this term and Fuchs considered that an extremely special quality. Leicester was rated to have the third best home support and fourth best away support in the whole of the Football League. The kind of away support Leicester enjoys shows in a group called New York Foxes where fans gather together to support their team, both for home and away matches.
As the Leicester City players lifted the Premier League trophy, the King Power Stadium roared with the Blue Army chanting Ranieri's name. Hailing from Italy, Ranieri the man, who was doubted right from the beginning, etched Leicester’s name in the footballing fortunes. As Leicester fairytale is all set to be a part of football folklore, to the spirit of Leicester; Dilly-ding, dilly-dong!