Journeymen Leicester turn from zeroes to heroes

Leicester’s remarkable rise from Barclays Premier League relegation strugglers to champions is complete — with a little help from the previous holders.

Reigning champions Chelsea drew 2-2 at home to Tottenham last night to gift their former boss Claudio Ranieri a stunning top-flight title.

Second-half goals from Gary Cahill and Eden Hazard were enough to finally down second-placed Spurs’ charge but the night and season belong to Leicester and their Italian manager.

Ranked as 5,000-1 outsiders at the start of the campaign, doubts were raised over whether Ranieri could stave off a battle against the drop when he was appointed as Nigel Pearson’s successor on July 13.

Now, 294 days later, he had the luxury of jetting back home to Rome to have lunch with his 96-year-old mother before returning to the East Midlands a hero.

The 64-year-old, though, was far from the only knight in shining armour at the King Power Stadium this term.

Some of Leicester’s unlikely stars were watching events unfold at striker Jamie Vardy’s house on an evening of high drama.

Foxes fans have coined the ‘Jamie Vardy’s having a party’ chant this season, and the England striker was actually throwing one at his Melton Mowbray home.

A number of players, such as Christian Fuchs, Robert Huth, Wes Morgan, and Shinji Okazaki were seen arriving at Vardy’s home, while a number of supporters also gathered outside the gates of the house. A video posted by Fuchs on Twitter at the final whistle last night was titled ‘CHAMPIONS!!!’ and showed the players in wild jubilation.

Vardy began his senior career at Stocksbridge Park Steels after being rejected by Sheffield Wednesday as a teenager. He was playing non-league football for Fleetwood in 2012.

The 29-year-old, who claimed the Football Writers’ Association player of the year award on Sunday, has gone on to score 24 goals for club and country this season and looks set to lead the line for England at Euro 2016.

Riyad Mahrez’s 17 goals and 11 assists saw him crowned PFA player of the year, capping the Algerian’s astonishing accent from the French second division as recently as 2014.

Goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, defenders Morgan and Danny Simpson, and midfielders N’Golo Kante and Danny Drinkwater were also recognised by the voters in the FWA poll.

Winger Marc Albrighton, speaking after Sunday’s 1-1 draw against Manchester United at Old Trafford, said: “We’ve got that never-say-die attitude. I think that’s won us a lot of points this season.

“Early on this season you’ve got the draws at Stoke and Southampton, we were 2-0 down in both of them, and 2-0 down in the home game against Villa.

“So that showed our character early in the season and we’ve continued to do that.”

Leicester lost 19 games in last season’s bid to escape relegation yet, under Ranieri, they have tasted defeat just three times in the Premier League.

They have gone to Manchester City and Tottenham and won, while an unbeaten run since mid-February proved beyond any doubt Ranieri’s side had the nerve to finish the job.

Seven years ago, to the day, after the Foxes rounded off their League One title-winning campaign with a 3-0 win away at Crewe, they can now savour the proudest moment in the club’s history.


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