It would be fair to say the Leicester City Football Club have had a pretty unextraordinary history. Except in season 2015/16, when not only did they pull off one of the biggest shocks in football, but arguably one of the biggest sporting shocks ever.
What did they achieve? Against all odds, they became Premier League champions in a fantastic fashion. In this article, we will tell the story of how Leicester City became English champions for the first time.
Jamie Vardy becomes a record breaker
The 2015/16 season was not just a great team success, it saw the breakout out of a top-quality Premier League predator in the shape of Jamie Vardy. The forward broke a Premier League record by scoring in 11 straight top-flight games in the first half of the season. Vardy went on to score 24 goals in the Premier League, which to this date is his most prolific top-flight campaign in front of goal.
The great escape the season before
The almost unbelievable story starts the season before the men from the Midlands won the title. Under Nigel Pearson, the Foxes sat rock bottom of the table in April after 29 league games, having picked up just 19 points. It seemed to all that the men from the Midlands were heading for relegation to the Championship.
However, Leicester produced a sensational run of form, winning seven of their last nine matches to claim 41 points and beat the drop. No team had ever avoided relegation, having taken only 19 points from 29 games. Leicester’s survival is regarded by many as one of the most incredible escapes in the history of the Premier League. The end-of-season recovery saw the start of the rise of a certain former non-league forward called Jamie Vardy.
The positive momentum continued in season 2015/16
In season 2015/16, Leicester were once again considered one of the favourites to suffer relegation, despite their upturn in fortunes at the end of the previous campaign. They also experienced the blow of losing head coach Pearson, as the club’s hierarchy sacked the experienced boss. His sacking came after a number of off-the-field public relations issues, one of which allegedly involved Pearson’s son James.
The Foxes turned to a wily old fox in former Chelsea head coach Claudio Ranieri. It turned out to be an inspired appointment. The Italian boss kept the positive momentum going. After showing flashes of his scoring prowess in the previous season, Vardy truly announced himself on the Premier League stage with 13 goals in 11 straight league matches by November.
With many thinking that Leicester’s early season form would fade, the Foxes were top of the Premier League table on Christmas Day. This was extraordinary as just a year earlier, the men from the Midlands had been rock bottom of the table and looking like relegation fodder.
In April, Leicester was assured of a place in the Champions League for the next season. The Foxes had never previously appeared in European football’s elite competition. In fact, they had barely played in any European competition of note.
Title sealed in May
On May 2nd, Tottenham’s 2-2 draw with London rivals Chelsea confirmed Leicester as the English champions for the first time in their history. To put the triumph into perspective, some bookmakers rated the Foxes as 5000-1 to win the Premier League title at the start of the season.
Many bookmakers stated after the victory that they had never paid out on a bet with such long odds. The title didn’t just change the Leicester players’ lives but also that brave few that backed the Foxes to claim the English crown.
Jamie Vardy was rewarded for his 24 league goals by winning the Premier League Player of the Year award and FWA Footballer of the Year. Meanwhile, head coach Ranieri also picked up the Premier League Manager of the Year and the LMA Manager of the Year awards.
How did they do it?
Leicester built their success on their ability to hit teams on the counter-attack at lightning pace, with the likes of Vardy and Algerian winger Riyad Mahrez the two key players in attack. However, the Foxes were also defensively solid, with the central defensive partnership of Robert Huth and Wes Morgan rocks in the centre of the backline while also occasionally contributing at the other end of the pitch.
Ultimately, the victory was a triumph for all the underdogs out there. Nobody expected much from the Foxes, but they showed that a team could achieve anything with hard work and, of course, a sprinkling of talent.
The part of head coach Claudio Ranieri cannot be forgotten either, as the victory in 2016 was his first title in the game, despite a long and illustrious career. His calmness and man-management helped guide his team through any bumps in the road.
An inevitable dip the following season
Although Leicester performed well in the Champions League the following season, their domestic form wasn’t great, and they spent much of the first half of the campaign in the bottom half of the Premier League table.
However, Ranieri’s achievement of leading the Foxes to the title was once again rewarded in December, as he was voted coach of the year of the prestigious sports personality of the year, while Leicester also won the team of the year award.
As is the fickle nature of the beautiful game, Leicester’s hierarchy dispensed with the services of Ranieri in February 2017, with the team just a point above the Premier League’s relegation zone.
The Foxes initially appointed Ranieri’s former assistant Craig Shakespeare as caretaker head coach, only to give him the job on a permanent basis after victories over Liverpool and Hull City. Shakespeare guided the Foxes to safety that season and ensured the Foxes were not the first team to win the Premier League and suffer relegation the following season.
It will may never be repeated
The story of Leicester City’s title triumph is a story straight from the pages of the Roy of the Rovers comics. If Hollywood had scripted it, some would have claimed that the storyline was too far-fetched.
It was a fantastic achievement for a club like Leicester, who had been struggling so badly, to rise to the English game’s zenith and claim the Premier League title. Unfortunately, a team “Doing a Leicester”, as it is now known, is unlikely to happen again in the near future.
However, it was one of those occasions which reminded many fans that there is hope for any team if the ingredients are right. The Foxes’ title triumph will likely be talked about for a long time to come, even if Leicester never manage to hit those same heights again, they will always have their now world-famous title triumph.