While I realise I’m stating the most profoundly obvious sentence available here, what Leicester City managed to achieve last season was remarkable. The facts, as they should be, are well documented. A group of players, tarnished with doubt, stylistic limitations and a lack of experience at the very top level were led – by a written off wildcard appointment of a manager – to the league title. It’s unparalleled unlikelihood is unavoidable in an age of super clubs with deep support and even deeper pockets. Correctly, Leicester’s achievement has been branded the greatest in modern sporting history. They’re the facts, I know them and so do you.
But perhaps even more startling and unfounded was the way Leicester City achieved this. The aforementioned context to their success will always be referenced and rightfully so. One only has to look at the way Borussia Dortmund’s and Atletico Madrid’s near triumphs in Europe are viewed to understand the importance of budgets when viewing a side’s achievements. Both sides’ financial strength was far outweighed by Europe’s largest clubs, and yet between them the two sides have managed to reach three Champions League finals in four years.
In the commercial age football now finds its self in budgets, wage bills and financial success in contrast to other sides has unsurprisingly become a leading measurement of both over and underachievement. And while this is both fair and understandable, it is also cruel to Ranieri’s pragmatism and understanding of the English game. Whereas Klopp’s Dortmund were viewed as innovators, a swashbuckling conglomerate of pacy players whose intensity and full on attitude would tear Europe’s passing units in to tatters, Ranieri’s side were seen as reductionists, negative and old school. While Simeone was hailed as Europe’s next great tactician, a man who had taken the supposedly dead 4-4-2 and modernised it in to a mechanical, organic system of loyal legionnaires, Leicester were viewed as yard dogs, outcasts who chanced a league.
The way Leicester have been viewed tactically by many is a crying shame, a mysteriously odd occurrence. While English football watches over the waters to the south in search of the next innovation, the next recipe for success to once again help the league rule Europe, a side from the Midlands has well and truly trumped them using tactical nuances and ideas from which English football’s success was built.
A rigid 4-4-2 containing imposing centre halves, all purpose central midfielders and an enigmatic wide man paired with a steady, tactically wise player on the opposite flank. Up front, a poacher with a perfect foil. Jamie Vardy’s success owes a considerable amount to Shinji Okazaki’s industrial work rate and intelligent movement. While not always the most flamboyant, Leicester’s style and system was extremely effective. While many have stated that sides didn’t respect Leicester and played in to their style, allowing The Foxes to counter attack with ease, the champions still managed to put away the league’s weaker sides with aplomb. The only games Leicester lost in the league last season were against Arsenal twice and Liverpool once.
While more readily likened to the downbeat aspects of English Football’s resurgence in the past two decades, there are obvious influences from the more impressive attributes the better sides of the time possessed. Ranieri’s men have always reminded me of an Alex Ferguson team. Electric on the flanks, positive and snappy when moving the ball forward and well drilled at the back. This, paired with the togetherness harnessed by Ranieri, has been key in Leicester’s League title win. Indeed, The Foxes’ manager seems to have refined his somewhat erratic approach, first seen at his time as Chelsea manager, and created a game plan aptly suited to the English game.
So what now for Ranieri’s team, an evolution towards a monotonous 4-2-3-1 with split centre halves and intricate midfielders? I hope not. Leicester were last years rogues, defiant in their actions and true to what was making them successful, ugly, but at the same time outlandish. The odds are stacked against them this season (as if they weren’t last, eh?), while winning a title is hard enough retaining it is where the metal of any great side can really be tested. Even subliminally, sides switch off and who could blame Leicester if they did? What more could they do to beat what they’ve done?
I hope they don’t change, I hope this refreshing, under valued and different Leicester style sticks around long enough for people to realise just how impressive it is. In an age of such intellectually stimulating tactical set ups, maybe a throwback or two wouldn’t hurt anyone.