- Chris Sobey
There have been many major sporting upsets and underdogs winning at unimaginable odds in the modern sporting era, Greece winning Euro 2004 and the Soviet Union beating the USA at Basketball in the 1972 Olympics to name a couple, but up until the start of this season the most valuable football competition in the world, the Premier League, had been void of any major upsets.
At the start of the season Leicester City were one of the rank outsiders at 5000/1 after miraculously surviving relegation last season. However, a change of leadership in the shape of the experienced and wily Claudio Ranieri (aged 64) in the off season proved to be a master stroke.
Many thought Ranieri’s glory days were long behind him after being sacked as manager of Greece after only four months in to the job, but the Italian’s best work has always been at club level and looking at his resume, it’s clear to see he’s been a master at taking struggling teams from the wilderness in to the big time.
His most notable successes came with Fiorentina; who he led to Serie A promotion and the Coppa Italia and Italian Super Cup, Chelsea, who he led to runners up in the Premier League and semi-finalists of the UEFA Champions League in 2004 and Monaco, who were languishing in Ligue 2 when he arrived, and after promotion to the top flight they finished runners up the same season.
From his vast experience Ranieri clearly new he had a very talented and most importantly hard working squad at his disposal, which only needed to be strengthened in key areas. He focused on the centre of defence, which he shored up by making Robert Huth’s loan spell permanent, centre midfield with arguably the signing of the season in French International N’Golo Kante, and upfront in the shape of Japanese International and Mainz striker Shinji Okazaki.
He already had two of the soon to be hottest attacking properties in the Premier League at his disposal in the shape of former non-league player Jamie Vardy and PFA Player of the Year Rihad Mahrez, formerly of little know French club Le Havre. In fact, it’s only fair that credit also goes out to Nigel Pearson and the clubs scouting network for developing and putting this squad of lowly and unheralded players together, which played a big part in their original promotion and survival at the end of last season.
It’s safe to say none of this squad of players would have got in to any of the big clubs first teams at the start of the season, if even on the bench, but this clearly did not phase Ranieri, who from vast experience will have known only to well the raw talent he had at his disposal and with the right motivation, tactics and belief anything was possible.
All Ranieri could do to start with was make sure his team were difficult to beat, they worked themselves to the bone for each other and the cause and finally, what proved to be their secret weapon all season, hit teams on the counter at every opportunity utilising the pace and flair of Vardy and Mahrez upfront.
With Manchester United flailing in the absence of Sir Alex Ferguson and Chelsea’s chances of defending the title hit by Mourinho leaving, all eyes turned to Arsenal, Manchester City and an improving Spurs for the Premier League race. However, Leicester were up their throughout and by the turn of the year had only lost two games, ironically against Arsenal, who were the only team to beat them home and away all season.
They also had the luxury of not playing in Europe, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise come the second half of the season, as when the distraction of domestic cup competition subsided they were the only team in the title race who had no other distractions.
Arsenal’s challenge fell apart at the turn of the year and from this point onwards they only won seven games, including their 1-0 win against Norwich at the weekend. Manchester City’s title hopes fell away in February when they failed to win five of six games, including a 3-1 humbling at the hands of Leicester at the Etihad.
Spurs also came of age this season and proved to be Leicester’s closest challengers in the end, but their Europa League and domestic cup runs were probably the main factor in them just falling short this season.
However, ultimately Leicester fully deserved their first ever top-flight and Premier League title having won three more games than any other team so far this season and recording the lowest number of defeats at a miserly three.
Their Premier League title will go down in history as one of the biggest shocks the professional game has ever and will most likely ever witness world-wide. A special mention has to go out to the players who have gone from near nobodies to global stars in the space of 12 months and manager Claudio Ranieri, who at the age of 64, has won his first ever domestic top-flight title as a manager and it could not have happened to a finer man.
Continuing the thread of major upsets and there was another last night when Champions League favourites Bayern Munich were sent crashing out of the tournament on away goals at the hands of Atletico Madrid at the Allianz Arena in Munich. Bayern Munich should have benn 2-0 up and 2-1 up on aggregate by half-time, but Muller missed a penalty on 34 minutes.
With the tie finally poised at 1-1 Atletico grabbed the vital away goal thanks to Griezmann after 54 minutes, Lewandowski pulled one back for Bayern 20 minutes later and Atletico should have put the tie to rest when they were awarded a penalty with six minutes remaining however, Torres fluffed his lines missing the spot-kick, but fortunately for him there was only minutes remaining and Atletico held firm to progress to a second straight Champions League final.