Leicester Effect will outfox us all

With Claudio Ranieri’s brilliant band of merry men claiming the most unlikely of Premier League title wins, prepare to hear from all and sundry about the new cliche du jour, the Leicester Effect...
Leicester Effect will outfox us all

Sick of the Leicester City story yet?

Thought not, especially with today being coronation day at the King Power Stadium when there’s unlikely to be a dry eye in that house — or many others.

Still, I suspect it won’t be long before you’re starting to feel just a little bit queasy, not about the greatest football story ever told, but by the way in which it will be co-opted by all sorts of chancers and spoofers as a self-serving parable for our times.

When I saw Nigel Lawson trumpeting what sounded like a flimsy Leicester connection on BBC’s Question Time t’other night, I sensed this was just the beginning of a takeover by the dark forces: Après lui, le deluge.

So brace yourself for the onrushing flood of economists, social scientists, psychologists, clerics, columnists, motivational speakers, lifestyle coaches, self-help gurus, and, of course, more politicians than you could shake a fist at, which is set to sweep poor old David away with Goliath and drown us all in the new cliche du jour: The moral and meaning of the Leicester Effect.

Hell, I wouldn’t even rule out the unveiling of the Leicester Miracle Diet: How increasing your beer and pizza intake can leave you too looking as whippet-thin as Jamie Vardy.

In the meantime, football continues its own struggle with divining the meaning of it all, as illustrated by the wall to wall interrogation of rival Premier League managers on the subject yesterday.

All were united in their sincere regard for what Leicester have achieved but, for the big beast gaffers, there had to be an acutely uneasy awareness that in the very act of extending the palm to the new champions they were simultaneously pointing an accusing finger back at themselves. And rightly so: For Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal, and Manchester United, the triumph of the underdog says as much, if not more, about the glaring deficiencies of the supposed top guns — in the areas of wise recruitment, team spirit, work ethic, and value for money — as it does about Leicester’s telling edge in all those departments.

Arsene Wenger wondered yesterday if their success might mean a move away from the possession-based game which many have sought to employ — with, admittedly, wildly varying degrees of success — since Barcelona and Spain brought tika-taka to a starring role on the European and world stages.

But even where possession has been nine-tenths of the law, it has always been the case that the remaining tenth requires the transformative input of truly gifted individuals — the likes of Xavi, Iniesta and, of course, Messi — to provide the critical finishing touch, to convert all that tantalising foreplay into the longed-for consummation of goals and wins and trophies.

It is widely recognised that a key part of Leicester’s success has been their capacity to make more of less — in terms of possession of the ball and territorial advantage — but they simply couldn’t have won the title without their own outstanding triumvirate.

Quality is a key word here, one that is not perhaps given its proper due in the understandable rush to praise the collective sense of purpose of Leicester as a club and as a team. And in Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez, and N’golo Kante they have soloists of the highest calibre, three players who, it’s hardly an exaggeration to say, would enhance virtually any team in the world right now.

Keeping all three on board will be vital to Leicester’s hopes of exporting their Premier League revolution to Europe next season. Even after all that’s happened this year, there seems to be little appetite to predict with any confidence how far they might actually go in the Champions League, an instinctive reluctance which still has more to do with them being ‘little Leicester’ than, say, the rather more meaningful reality that the self-styled ‘greatest league in the world’ has had its shortcoming repeatedly and rudely exposed in Europe in recent years.

But when you reflect on the underwhelming standard of the fare on offer in the Champions League semi-finals just gone, you’d be tempted to conclude that there might not be too much for Leicester City to fear next time around.

Yes, it still feels downright weird to contemplate them rubbing shoulders, even just on paper, with the likes of Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Barcelona, and PSG. But the latter two failed to make the last four this time, Bayern went out at that stage and Real Madrid didn’t look too clever in seeing off a Manchester City side which already knows what it was like to be played off the park by Claudio Ranieri’s team.

And Atletico Madrid? This year’s other finalists in Milan have developed into a side of proper European pedigree in recent years but, in their essential philosophy and style of play under Diego Simeone, you’d have to say that there’s more than a hint of, well, the fearless Foxes about them.

Ah, but what am I saying?

Who knows, maybe it will all blow up in Leicester’s faces at home and abroad, meaning that the 2015/16 season in England will be destined to go down in history as a freakishly beautiful one-off.

But at least this much is true: although Leicester will go into the Champions League as underdogs, it won’t be as the rank outsiders they were at the start of this astonishing season in England. The days of getting shorter odds on Bono becoming Pope are gone.

Meanwhile, prepare for a fresh onslaught of questions and theories about ‘the Leicester Effect’ in the run-up to Euro 2016 — especially if your name happens to be Gianni De Biasi or Lars Lagerback or Chris Coleman or, more to the point, O’Neill, Martin or Michael.

And if you’re not heartily sick of it by the time the big kick-off comes around in France, then I’m pretty sure the managers of Albania, Iceland, Wales, and the two Irelands, will be.

But not now, not today, not as Wes Morgan prepares to hoist the Premier League trophy at the King Power stadium. In football, in sport, this is just about as feelgood as it gets.

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