The view that one can achieve anything if you really put your mind to it is one that has followed me throughout my life.
There’s a line from “The Rocky Horror Show”, don’t dream it, be it. Great sentiment and certainly part of a motivational process that allows many to achieve great things. If you dream it, you can achieve what you wish. Or as one lost little girl once sang, “The dreams that you dare to dream really can come true”.
This year, Leicester City Football Club achieved the impossible. Winning the Premier League title is a huge achievement for any football club. A task that can surely only be completed by capturing the best players, and for that matter, having the most money, all under the guidance of the best manager.
In September 2015, nobody, not even anyone working at Leicester City would have thought any of that was the case at their club. Having narrowly escaped relegation, a squad of players turned up to play for a manager who, although once considered one of the best in the game, had been a Premier League flop at one of the biggest clubs in the country. At Chelsea, you aren’t allowed to “dream it”, you have to “be it”, or you’re out. And that is exactly what happened to Claudio Ranieri after six seasons in charge at Stamford Bridge.
So what could Ranieri and his plucky lads have possibly “dared to dream” of as the 2015/16 season kicked off? One of the mantras of goal setting strategies is that any target set should be achievable and realistic. I imagine the first goal was to avoid the drop. Achievable? Yes. This was something they had just done. Surely they could dare to hope for that. Perhaps a mid-table finish? Yes, I’ll give them that. Anything can happen in football and of course a club can ride the wave of avoiding a relegation battle to stamp their authority on the lower half of the table and be a strong contender to be one of the best “alright” teams in the Premier League. They could even aspire to be the best “alright” team in the Premier League. Yes, spectacularly alright. I’m sure Danny Drinkwater and his colleagues would have taken that. Can we dare to dream of a top ten position? Or even Europe? Don’t be daft.
And what of those who dared to place a bet with the bookmaker at odds of 5000-1? What sort of madness is this? Who on earth would waste money on that? Well a huge amount of Leicester fans did exactly that. There can surely only be two categories under which such people would fall. Those die-hard fans who are foolish enough to expect that their team can do anything. The kind of optimistic foolhardiness usually only reserved for children who walk past ice-cream stalls on their way to the dentist, and Donald Trump supporters. (I really hope I’m right with the last one!) The other could only be that oddity of a football fan who just puts bets on everyone, a couple of quid for every team in the league. I’m sure the latter category will grow exponentially next season.
Well, those dyed in the wool idiots who wasted a tenner on Leicester are now fifty thousand pounds richer. The fools.
So, what the hell happened? Who wrote this ridiculous Disney-esque fantasy of a script that could possibly allow these losers to triumph over adversity and defeat the best in the land.
Well, firstly, it wouldn’t be cruel to Leicester to acknowledge that the best in the league certainly weren’t at their best. The defending champions, Chelsea, were inexplicably poor. The odds that this particular group of players, led by Jose Mourinho, would defend their title in such an appalling manner would be almost as great as those on Leicester to win the damn thing. That particular event deserves a study in itself, but with the defending title holders dispatched from proceedings with the speed of a supporting character in an Agatha Christie novel, the remains of the “big four” must have been wetting themselves with the prospect that their chances had spectacularly increased by December. “What? Some farm boys are the top of the league? We don’t need to worry about them”, I imagine Louis Van Gaal must have contemptuously spluttered at Christmas, assured in the knowledge that this little provincial club he had probably only heard of in the last five years would very soon falter. And he wouldn’t have been alone. Perhaps there is something in just that. The removal of Chelsea from contention changed the landscape for Arsenal and the Manchesters, United and City. This clearly uneased them. Well, actually it didn’t unease Arsenal that much as they played their part with predictable perfection. Genuine title contenders as the tinsel and fairy lights went up, wheels coming off the barrow as the last morsels of haggis at Burns suppers were being scraped off the plates at the end of January. Manchester United seemed to still be smarting from the hangover that was Davie Moyes and hadn’t quite got their act together yet. And on the other side of that famous footballing town, Manchester City were clearly too busy waving big wads of sweaty money in everyone’s faces to realise they actually had a job to do.
And so the way was paved on the yellow brick road for one of the pretenders to the throne. Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and even West Ham led the charge. A change in manager took Liverpool out of contention. Excitement about the future under Klopp is high at Anfield, but the Merseyside red contingent were almost unanimously contented to accept that this new era was destined to begin in the summer when the talented German could start to build his own team.
West Ham battled bravely, and, like Leicester, performed above expectations. The acquisition of Payet proved him to be a breakthrough star, but they just couldn’t find that consistency.
It was left to Spurs to show their metal, and in the season’s last hurrah, put up the bravest of fights. The only genuine title contenders, they suffered at the hands of a Chelsea side who, with bare faced shame, turned up for the one game in the season that mattered. Chelsea fans must have had a right good laugh at Spurs’ expense on the night. On further inspection however, they must have been asking where that team had been for most of the season.
Leicester City showed how easy it is to win a title. You just have to keep winning games. A series of 1- 0 victories might have on paper suggested a run of dogfights, knuckling down to grind out result after result. The reality was in fact a series of highly entertaining games, usually dominated by a side who were learning fast in the steepest of learning curves. Perfectly organised, psychologically tuned in, fit as a butchers dog and just as hungry. Everything that champions should be.
In the end, it was easier than history will probably show. Fans of the future will perhaps assume that Leicester spluttered over the line, gasping and wheezing like a runner dressed as Scooby-Doo in the London Marathon, just happy that it was over and they got there. In fact, clearing the post with ten points to spare only underlines how astonishing this feat was. If Arsenal or Manchester United had done this, the media would have been wrecking their brains to come up with “Best United side of all time” type headlines. I hope history remembers this when the big book of football is written. Leicester deservedly cantered it. They ARE one of the best sides of all time.
But how on earth did they do it?
Was it triumph over adversity? No not really, they had done that the year before when fighting relegation. For a club the size of Leicester, getting into the top ten of this league has no adversity attached to it, it’s a fun ride that you want to keep going.
Was it a battle against the odds. It would have been if the odds weren’t so absurd that the story doesn’t just read as fiction, its science fiction. Odds don’t come into it.
This is a story of what happens when the impossible starts to take form. It becomes more real because you can see it and think about what it would be like if you won, but by being top of the league for so long, Leicester most likely started fantasising about the win in the way lottery ticket holders do on a Saturday afternoon. The notion that it is not impossible anymore, but improbable, may have kept the pressure and tension to a minimum. By March and into April, they were already winners. Now it was all about momentum. They really could dare to dream.
This sounds like I am building up to an answer. I’m not. And maybe nobody will ever have an answer. And frankly, I’m not sure I want one. I think I’d like to believe it was magic, or the Force or something. But when it comes down to it, it’s the perfect mix of teamwork, high self-esteem, organisation and hard graft. Leicester FC aren’t the 2016 Premier League Champions because other people didn’t do well. Or because they were lucky. They are the champions because they did better than anyone else. Simple as that. And I am happy to accept that.
Good luck and congratulations to each and every one. The only talking left for the players to do is, who will play them in the movie.