Flying Foxes

Leicester City defied the odds to win the Premier League title in 2016 but have had to rebuild in the years since. Soccer 360 Magazines Oli Coates takes a closer look at the team’s fall and rise following their astonishing success.

What do you do after pulling off one of the most remarkable feats in English football history? Sack the manager, of course. Claudio Ranieri lasted barely nine months at Leicester City after delivering the most impossible of Premier League titles in 2015-16, catapulting the club into a period of rebuilding despite the eyes of the world being thrust upon them.

In the time it takes for a human baby to fully develop, Ranieri was out of a job, despite bestowing memories that will last a lifetime for any supporter of Leicester City. And indeed for millions of other football fans across the globe, and not just of clubs considered underdogs like the tenacious Foxes of that campaign.

Craig Shakespeare took up the reigns and eventually ensured the champions finished 12th in 2017, but only lasted a couple of months in his first full season in charge. He was replaced by Claude Puel, who guided the Foxes to ninth place, before almost a year to the day after taking over, unimaginable tragedy struck.

Leicester’s much-loved owner and chairman, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, died alongside four others in a devastating helicopter crash on October 27, 2018. Shaking the footballing world to its core, the future of the Srivaddhanaprabha family’s involvement in Leicester City inevitably came into question.

With Vichai’s son, Aiyawatt ‘Top’ Srivaddhanaprabha succeeding his father as chairman, Leicester’s fate would go one of two ways. Top appeared in little doubt his father would want the family’s commitment to continue, and the new Leicester began to rise from the ashes of the tragic crash.

Indeed, the man currently taking his place in the dugout at the King Power Stadium, Brendan Rodgers, was appointed just four months after Vichai’s passing. Like his new club, the Northern Irishman was also in a period of rebuilding, following a spell in Scotland with Celtic.

Rodgers needed to regroup and restore his reputation after falling agonisingly short of landing a first ever Premier League title for Liverpool in 2014. An excellent coach who built up a strong reputation for his attractive style of play at Swansea City, Rodgers gave up the chance to lead Celtic to a historic treble treble in order to make his Premier League return.

So far, you’d have to say he’s been vindicated in that decision. Handed the keys to the castle in many ways, Rodgers oversaw the move to Leicester’s new state-of-the-art training ground, which opened in December. Symbolic of the legacy Vichai left behind, the world-class facilities provide the Foxes squad with a thoroughly modern base befitting their current status and future aspirations.

Rodgers has returned Leicester to the upper echelons of the Premier League, although the Foxes faded during the final weeks of last season to narrowly miss out on a place in the Champions League for a second year running. However, Rodgers did lead the Foxes to their first ever FA Cup trophy, adding the prestigious title to their cabinet.

It’s been said that the title-winning Leicester City side represented something of an embodiment of their supporters. With body-on-the-line men like Robert Huth and underdog stories all over the pitch – not least in the form of Jamie Vardy – Ranieri’s team was packed with modern day cult heroes.

Identifying with the underdog is easy for most people. However, becoming an elite footballer is not about being the underdog. It’s about beating the odds, being better than all the other kids in the academy, outperforming your team mates to get a place in the starting line-up. It’s about taking cut-throat decisions on contracts and transfers, bettering your career and maximising your potential. Being successful.

Under Rodgers, it appears that Leicester are becoming less like underdogs. This is shown not only by the top-class facilities, but also in the changes we can see in the style of play. Although breaking at pace remains a key weapon, especially against the bigger teams in the league, Rodgers’ trademark passing game has been implemented at the King Power.

It didn’t take long for the rest of the division to work out how to play against Leicester’s title winners. Ranieri failed to transition his team to becoming a more dominant, passing side, and we can see that in their results as champions. In 25 Premier League games under the Italian in 2016-17, the Foxes only managed five wins, losing 14 times. Ranieri’s reign ended in five straight defeats, with Leicester failing to score a single goal.

In Rodgers’ first full season in charge, Leicester only lost six of their opening 25 league matches, winning 15. This term, their record was identical after their first 25 games. Even so, there has been clear and obvious progression. The challenge is to keep improving and to sustain it over the course of the whole season, a la 2015-16.

A big part of Rodgers’ success has been to make Leicester less reliant on Vardy. James Maddison and Harvey Barnes have both had superb seasons, while Kelechi Iheanacho has rediscovered his scoring touch of late. Replacing N’Golo Kante has been nigh-on impossible, but Wilfred Ndidi has made a great fist of it, excelling alongside Youri Tielemans in central midfield.

Greater solidity has helped the Foxes improve their results against the big teams, while Rodgers has shown himself capable of making subtle tactical switches within games to outfox Leicester’s opponents. Confidence has soared, and you get the feeling the Foxes feel like they’re capable of beating anyone on their day.

Together with exemplary recruitment, noticeable player development and those wonderful training facilities, Leicester have the foundations in place for long-term success. Perhaps that will come under Rodgers, but even if it doesn’t, Leicester City are an attractive proposition for managers and players alike, and they look set to remain a fixture in the Premier League elite.

How Leicester pulled off their miracle

The world was a very different place in 2016 and it is easy to forget the scale of Leicester’s achievement that year. Oli Coates recalls how the Premier League title was won…

Impossible is nothing

Will there ever be a more incredible title triumph than Leicester City’s 2015-16 Premier League crown? An afterthought to win the league with odds of 5,000/1 across a host of major British bookmakers, Leicester because only the sixth different club to become champions in the Premier League era, after Manchester United, Blackburn Rovers, Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City.

Given their status and budget compared to a host of other clubs in the English top flight, there never seemed to be any chance that Claudio Ranieri could pull off the impossible. Especially when you consider the fact that Leicester had only been back in the Premier League for one season, and finished 14th in 2014-15.

The Foxes ended that campaign 46 points behind champions Chelsea. The following year, Leicester gathered 31 more points than the Blues, an astonishing swing of 77 points inconceivable in August 2015. So, just how did Ranieri do it?

Firstly, the Italian manager had to win over his squad. Nigel Pearson was a big character to follow, and Ranieri arrived at a club in turmoil. He watched four days of pre-season training in Austria, and with new signings such as Christian Fuchs, Shinji Okazaki and N’Golo Kante to call on, Leicester started the season by going six games unbeaten.

When Arsenal thumped them 5-2 at the King Power towards the end of September, you would’ve been laughed out of town if you’d predicted Leicester would be lifting the title in less than eight months. However, the Foxes only lost twice more all season, away to Liverpool and Arsenal, winning 23 of their 38 games to secure the league by a commanding 10 points.

Ranieri refused to acknowledge his team as title contenders for the majority of the season, sticking to a philosophy of taking one game at a time. That’s easier said than done, but somehow Leicester’s players refused to buckle even as the pressure grew to unimaginable levels in the final weeks and months of the season.

There’s no doubt the Foxes profited from a number of big clubs enduring below-par campaigns. Indeed, Leicester’s tally of 81 points remains the lowest since Manchester United amassed 80 in both 2000-01 and 2010-11.

However, there was nothing fortunate or lucky about Leicester’s triumph. It was fully deserved, and featured standout victories over the likes of Chelsea, Tottenham and Liverpool, as well as a commanding 3-1 win away to Manchester City.

Ranieri allowed his players to believe without allowing their dream to stifle performances, and the fast, fluid, counter-attacking football was so often a joy to behold. Impossible is nothing, after all.

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