That Magical seasonI I was one of the earliest adopters of the liecester dream, around late September 2015, all because of one man, Claudio Ranieri.
However come the third week of September, the first match of the league between Arsenal and Chelsea, two red cards for Arsenal, two goals for Chelsea, and there was that empty feeling in the stomach again. So post game, next day as per routine, I was browsing the same things, MOTD, post match analysis videos, of how Arsenal blew it up, and there it was an interesting link, ‘Ranieri: Players get pizza for a clean sheet’ and instinctively I clicked on it.
Now Ranieri was familiar, ex Chelsea boss, during the Invincible season, and his comments and style of speaking was nice, and he cut a likeable figure, before he got sacked, and went into wilderness (For Indians, football is EPL, and EPL is football, interrupted with the odd World Cup)
The funny statement, ‘When we make clean sheet, I pay everybody pizza, maybe they wait, when I say good dinner’, ‘pizza and hot dog’ and the fact that Leicester were second in the league at that point, just held on to memory.
Next week it was Arsenal Vs Leicester, and Arsenal just ran through them, got five goals, and many felt the bubble was burst. However there was one player, running up and down the pitch, interested in scoring goals even though the match was clearly lost, that player was Jamie Vardy, scoring two goals. Additional there was the video of Huth, waiting for Per Mertesacker in the tunnel to exchange shirts, a endearing moment of respect!.
24th October 2015. Crystal Palace win.
Then came a one nil victory over Palace, by then Leicester has slipped outside the top four, however it was a clean sheet!, and the moment I caught the score online, I was like, ‘Pizza’
Around this time, Arsenal were in top 2, Chelsea season had faltered, and as a Arsenal fan, it seemed to be our season, so following up on EPL had become a regular thing, league standings etc .
A month later, somewhere towards the end of November, Leicester had another tough match, against Manchester United. Till then, a string of wins had propelled them up the table. If October was about pizza, then November was about Jamie Vardy, He was on a consecutive goal scoring streak.
People underrate the role of commentary in football, however I feel that a good string of words, combined with the pitch can go a long way in making a moment memorable, recent memory is Aguerooo against QPR, or there is Bergkamp . The Vardy goal has, ‘it’s eleven, it’s heaven, hold the back page, hold the front page’
And in all of this there was still dose of fun from Ranieri ‘two training sessions’
Fairy Tale within a Fairy Tale
That record breaking streak weaved a nice narrative around Leicester. Vardy, a non league player, breaking into EPL at an age when according to EPL standards he was beyond his prime, struggling and making it. Everyone loves the underdog, the fairy tale. Vary was an amazing story, it was not hard to get hooked onto it. And within that was another fairly tale that was brewing, a club that faced relegation the previous season, and managed to just make it through a record breaking string of wins at the end of previous season. A prospect that the team that was last in league table in the previous season, was verging towards the top of the league the next season.
Then there were tales of Drinkwater, Huth, Albrigton, all rejects from big clubs, forming a solid group. The Fuchs story of almost leaving football to make it back to a EPL team. Kante, Mahrez playing in obscure levels of French league to make it into EPL. Fairy Tales within Fairy Tales.
At this stage, even though they were on top of the league, the players, manager, all were in unison, in saying that their target is safety, forty points. Magically they almost achieved those points, and were on 39 points at the end of the year.
My interested in EPL was firm as Arsenal ended the year as league leaders. As the year switches, for Arsenal, Fear February was still on the cards. Manchester City, and Spurs were also close enough. Things poised delicately for the second half of the season
January and Early February was going to be interesting for Leicester, they were going to meet all the contenders head on, Spurs, Liverpool, Manchester City, and Arsenal. Many Pundits speculated that they will wither away by then, and best Leicester could hope for then is a Europa League place.
The Summer Signing
There was speculation that Mahrez, Vardy, could move up to a top club in January However what transpired was something phenomenal, Leicester not only managed to hold on their stars, but they added a new one to them. Demarai Gray. After Ashravin, there is no other signing that has been as exciting as Demarai Gray. He became a natural fit into the side, with tremendous ball holding capabilities, which came in handy when Leicester had to run down the clock in close matches!
That Goal against Liverpool!
Just as run of ‘trying’ fixtures began with Liverpool, there was an ‘air’ about the Foxes. The confidence was on the rise. And nothing exemplifies what confidence can do, than the volley by Jamie Vardy against Livepool. One of the commentators remarked, ‘maybe Leicester city’s name seems destined to be on the trophy!’. It was a screamer, even Jurgen Klopp could not help himself, but admire the volley. What a goal! That goal defines the meaning of having ‘an air’ about you!
They then topped it with a three to one goal victory over Manchester City, the other contenders. Riyadh Mahrez was amazing in that game, however what was more amazing was the his way in the post match interview. Relaxed, bumping to and fro against the wall, and calmly playing down any suggestions of title. Belief with that groundedness , is a rare trait!
The big game against Arsenal
Then came the Valentine day tie between Arsenal and Leicester, a truly six pointer. The Gap was just 5 points, and a win for Arsenal would edge them close, and importantly leapfrog Spurs. It was amazing to see Arsenal in contention.
That game is one of the most memorable games for me ever. If you want to watch and understand what spirit, grit, passion means on a football pitch, watch the part of the game after Leicester are reduced to 10 men. The stubbornness that they displayed, the display in defence by Morgan and company that day was reminiscent of the days of Viera. Leicester were toe to toe with Arsenal with a man down. Finally Arsenal did manage to sneak through a win, yet it felt hands down a match garlanding the Leicester spirit. It was the classic case of losing the battle yet winning the war. Later Ranieri has also remarked that this game gave them the belief that they could win the title.
On a side note, it was after this match that I ordered a Leicester City jersey, and it was a number 5, Morgan!. However the store bungled up my order, and sent me a jersey of my name with Henry number 14, because 14 was part of my email ID!.
Cat and Mouse game
Even though Arsenal won the game, very soon Arsenal fizzled out, and it became a Cat and Mouse game between Spurs and Leicester. Very soon it was clear that EPL will have a new winner this year, however to the credit of Leicester they never left their place at the top of the table!. Spurs finally bungled their chances, and all rested on the Chelsea game, which made it a matter of Mathematics
Hazard the previous year had delivered Chelsea the trophy with his goal, and this year, he again titled the scales, this time in Leicester City’s favour. LCFC had won the title without being on the pitch. Everyone I know, just enjoyed the pictures at Vardy’s house, as the players celebrated. What so far was for movies, got delivered , in true dramatic fashion. The underdog had won!
I was of the camp, If not Arsenal, then Leicester, and in general there was if not ___ then Leicester within every football fan!.
I uploaded by 14 Vinaay shirt on fb, to mark he occasion, many quipped, how can a Arsenal fan do this, its blasphemous, however once a while, you have to accept that someone else is truly better, and after all clapping an amazing success is true sportsman spirit. They won hearts, they won the trophy!
Everything about the season is memorable in parts, that blue cast on Vardy’s hand, ‘Dilly Ding Dilly Dong’ from Ranieri, the video below just summarises the feel good, light hearted manner, in which LCFC entered millions of fans, and for most of us, it was one name, Claudio Ranieri