Awakening the soul of football

Leicester’s breakthrough has been a refreshing change — proving, against popular belief, that money can’t buy everything. With hard work and determination they have managed to be at the forefront of a new dawn in football, where a "squad" has taken precedence over individuals.

Jamie Vardy (right) and Riyad Mahrez have been the two standout players for Leicester this season.   -  Getty Images

The Leicester juggernaut continues to roll on, baffling every football critic. The Premier League race is in its home-stretch and the boys in blue still lead the charts, with a healthy five-point gap over second placed Tottenham. I have been watching them closely over the last few games and I like what I see. They have the talent and passion and also the steely determination to wriggle out results even when not playing at their best. A bit of luck here and there of course helps.

 

In Claudio Ranieri, they have a great manager and the team spirit is spot on. The oneness of the squad has brought more confidence, which has resonated throughout this season. The Italian manager was lucky to inherit a settled team from his predecessor Nigel Pearson, but still deserves a lot of credit. Anyone can take over a good team, but to challenge for the League, you need to have something special and for me Ranieri has that. His long experience in European football has helped shape up the team’s playing strategy.

He has astutely marshalled his resources, taking full advantage of the lack of continental distractions. Leicester does not have a huge squad, unlike the Premiership elites, and Ranieri has done well to keep his players relatively injury-free till now. The Leicester fans are rightly calling him the “Godfather”.

The Algerian Riyad Mahrez has been right up there as one of the best attacking players in Europe and this nimble-footed genius has been the standout player of the season. It’s no surprise that top European clubs are looking at him. While Jamie Vardy has been the other star in the team, the industry of Shinji Okazaki and the impact of Leonardo Ulloa as a “Super Sub” also deserve a special mention. They have been fantastic and the credit goes to the manager for knowing how and where to play them. He has done wonderfully well to make every player feel valuable.

Vardy’s form, 19 goals so far, makes him the ideal choice to lead the English line, threatening Wayne Rooney’s right to the spot. The national team gaffer, Roy Hodgson, has a difficult job ahead, as England, after very many years, has such an array of talent. No player can be a certainty and everyone’s place is at threat, as talented juniors are doing the rounds to stake a claim. The 26-year-old Danny Drinkwater, has been phenomenal in the Foxes midfield, and will give the likes of Jordan Henderson, Fabian Delph and Michael Carrick a run for their money for a place in the heart of the English team.

 

Irrespective of the final result at the end of the campaign, the season has been a fairytale for Ranieri and his boys. I will, however, not agree with my good friend, Gary Lineker, who recently clubbed the Leicester run as the “greatest fairytale in sports history”. Now, Gary, understandably, as a Leicester homeboy, will gush about this miraculous run of form. I’ll still keep the Istanbul turnaround of 2005 (Liverpool defeated AC Milan 3-2 on penalties to win the Champions League final, after going 3-0 down at half time.) ahead of everything else. There’s no harm in being a bit biased at times, Gary!

But surely the coming season will be more difficult for Leicester. A place in the European competition will stretch their resources, as the club will have play more games. Champions League football is very different to the EPL, and I am not sure how the team will adapt to the gruels of mid-week football. You can’t buy European experience, as the Sheikhs at Manchester City grudgingly learnt, and Leicester’s game can be exposed there.

Ranieri will find it tough to hold on to his top talents as European powerhouses will make a beeline to sign the services of Mahrez, Vardy and Co. Money talks in today’s football and the club will be forced to sell if there is a right price.

Their bull run, however, has provided a great season for the neutrals. Leicester’s breakthrough has been a refreshing change — proving, against popular belief, that money can’t buy everything. With hard work and determination they have managed to be at the forefront of a new dawn in football, where a “squad” has taken precedence over individuals. But, I fear, things will again go back to normal.

Meanwhile, Thank you Leicester, Thank you Ranieri — for awakening the soul of football.