COLUMN: A trophy earned, not bought

By Tausifur Osmani

Perhaps the greatest underdog story in world sports history transpired when Leicester City overcame 5,000 to one odds by winning the Barclays Premier League on May 2, but essentially received minimal traction in the United States.

The top highlight reels of ESPN and Fox Sports were dominated with features of diving catches for fly balls and the Atlanta Hawks fulfilling their foreseeable prophecy of getting swept by a stacked Cavaliers team, that proved once again how weak the Eastern Conference truly is.

While coverage of Leicester City’s unprecedented and unexpected run in England’s top flight competition garnered a renowned amount of attention throughout the rest of the world. 

Everything from the team roster to the coaching staff had all the signs for a dismal year in the horizon fog into the 2015-2016 season.

In its 24 years of existence, there have only been six clubs that have won the Premier League title. 

Manchester United have won it 13 times, followed by Chelsea and Arsenal who have four and three titles under their belt. 

The likelihood of Leicester City winning the league was unanimously set at 5,000 to one odds according to several bookies and betting giants. 

To put that into perspective, the probability of Elvis Presley being alive (2,000-1), the Loch Ness monster being discovered (500-1), and Simon Cowell becoming prime minister of the U.K. all had better odds than Leicester City winning the league. 

Leicester were essentially the favorites to become relegated after barely escaping relegation the previous year by exhibiting a miraculous late season surge, winning seven of their last nine matches despite spending the majority of the season at bottom of the table.

Despite the miracle run, manager Nigel Pearson was sacked and Leicester appointed Claudio Ranieri to take the helm. 

Ranieri was coming off of several unsuccessful coaching stints. Many football pundits were already questioning Ranieri’s hiring, most notably Leicester fan and former player Gary Lineker who did not exactly give his seal of approval to the hiring.

“Claudio Ranieri is clearly experienced, but this is an uninspired choice by Leicester,” Lineker said while hosting Match of the Day on BBC.

Although expectations seemed bleak, luck or some form of divine intervention seemed to have guided the Foxes to achieve the holy grail of football. 

The core players of the team were comprised of mostly outcasts and rejects from other larger clubs since Leicester didn’t have the type of money to pursue big name players. 

Soccer is a sport that is financially dictated. 

Many top clubs are owned by well established billionaires who invest a substantial amounts of their money into their team’s transfer budget. 

The appointed managers buy the best available players in the world by paying hefty transfer fees in the process. 

The best players equate to creating the best teams, and the best teams equate to winning the most games and trophies. 

To illustrate this phenomenon, anyone can refer to the transfer budgets of all the clubs at the beginning of the season. 

Manchester City led all clubs with a transfer budget of $152 million as opposed to Leicester City’s mere $12 million budget. 

Among the players acquired was Algerian midfielder Riyad Mahrez who was bought for a bargain price of $500,000 from second division French club Le Havre. 

Mahrez scored 17 goals and added 10 assists in the season to earn him The Professional Football Association’s Player of the Year Award, meaning he was unanimously voted the best player in the league by his own peers from opposing clubs. 

The top scoring threat for the Foxes came in the form of Englishman Jamie Vardy who scored a league high 24 goals and was crowned Premier League Player of the Year by the Football Association. 

Vardy’s footballing career personifies the making of any Hollywood rags to riches story. 

He played in an amateur league for eight years while balancing working at a factory making medical splints before getting a professional contract from Leicester City in 2011 while the club was still in the second tier. 

In just eight years, Vardy has gone from being semi-pro athlete playing and working to make ends meet to becoming the top scorer in the most competitive league in the world. Earning a selection into England’s 22-man roster for the Euro 2016 Tournament in France.

The defensive anchors for the squad were French midfielder N’Golo Kantè who was rejected by the likes Real Madrid and Paris St. Germain before getting picked up by Leicester for $5.6 million. 

Team captain and 32 year-old veteran Wes Morgan held the defensive line for the Foxes by starting all 38 matches in the season as well as notching in two crucial goals late in the season to clinch the title for Leicester. 

After spending all season maintaining a calm and composed approach to each match, Morgan succumbed to the emotions of the momentous occasion.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling to finally get my hands on the trophy,” Morgan said during a post match interview with Sky Sports. “Walking up to the podium I got emotional, I had to hold back tears. I held them back and finally got my hands on it, lifted it and it’s the best feeling in the world.”

Leicester City capped off the 2015-2016 Premier League season with a league high 81 points and won the title with a secure grip, steering 10 points clear of Arsenal who finished with 71 points.

The Foxes shocked the world and pulled off a season long upset that ranks in the same realm as the “Miracle on Ice” or Buster Douglas’ knockout against Mike Tyson. 

Leicester proved that even in an athletic business where mass spending is the preferred route to success, passion can still trump profit.