If you were to look at the Barclay’s Premier League table a year ago today, things would look unsurprising to any fan of world soccer. The teams in position to qualify for the UEFA Champions League through the first 28 games were Chelsea first with a commanding 66 points, Manchester City second with 58, Arsenal third with 54 and Manchester United fourth with 53.
All the way on the opposite end of the table, the three teams in danger of being relegated to the lower English League Championship division were Queens Park Rangers and Burnley tied with 22 points, followed by Leicester City, dead last, earning an abysmal 19 points. That late on in a season, any team that far down in the table is almost guaranteed to be relegated back to the Championship. Leicester’s fate was all but sealed.
However, the team managed to find a new gear, and were somehow able to win seven of their final ten games, lifting them up to 14th place, and, more importantly, out of the relegation zone.
During the following offseason, Leicester fired coach Nigel Pearson and brought in Claudio Ranieri, former coach of European soccer giants such as Valencia, Inter Milan and Chelsea. Despite the change, nobody was anywhere near close to considering Leicester legitimate title contenders in 2015-2016. When English-based bookmaker William Hill came out with the odds for each team to win the title before the season started, Leicester were picked as 5,000-1 long shots to lift the trophy.
As it stands today, the bookmakers are looking rather foolish. Someway, somehow, the Leicester City Foxes sit atop the Premier League table with only 10 games remaining. According to William Hill, if they can manage to retain that spot for the rest of the year it would be the biggest upset in sporting history.
Only a handful of professional teams across any sport have ever overcome 100-1 odds to win, and virtually none have been able to overcome anything higher. To really put things in perspective, some other odds William Hill offers at 5,000-1 are Elvis is found alive, Christmas is the warmest day of the year in England, and the Yeti or Loch Ness Monster is proven to exist. Starting to get the picture of how improbable this run has been?
Experts are stumped as to how the Foxes have managed to turn things around so dramatically in just a year. Obviously, the coaching change has helped tremendously, but outside of that the squad looks virtually identical to how it did last season. The only difference is players are performing better. Much, much better.
One of the biggest contributors has been striker Jamie Vardy. The 28 year old has already found the back of the net a league-leading 19 times this season, compared to only five all of last season. Earlier this year, Vardy broke Manchester United legend Rudd Van Nistelrooy’s all-time Premier League record by scoring in 11 consecutive games.
Ironically, the goal that clinched the record came against United. Vardy’s story is nearly as remarkable as Leicester’s. Just eight years ago he was making £30 a week playing for the Stocksbridge Park Steels in the lowest possible division of English professional soccer. He had to work part-time at a carbon factory plant in order to make a viable living.
After a few strong seasons with a number of other teams in higher leagues, Vardy was picked up by Pearson and Leicester for a fee of £1 million. After a disappointing first year at the club, Vardy scored 19 goals in his second season and helped them reach the Premier League for the first time in club history. With ten games remaining, one can only assume Vardy will continue to add to his already impressive total.
What Leicester City have already accomplished this year has been nothing short of a miracle. For a team that was convincingly the worst in their league for the majority of last year to now be in a legitimate position to win it is unheard of.
Quite frankly, it seems impossible to root against them, regardless of what team you support. How could you? Everybody can’t help but love a good underdog story and Leicester City is the ultimate underdog story. Being able to see a team overcome such improbable odds isn’t merely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, it could very will be a once-in-a-thousand lifetimes one.
If Leicester do manage to hold on to their lead in the coming months, they’ll make their fans elated. Particularly, John Pryke, who drunkenly played a £20 bet on his side to win the title a day before the season started.
At 5,000-1 odds, he’ll find himself £100,000 richer on the final day of the Premier League season if the standings hold.