Leicester City’s Title Win Was A Miracle & I Am Bitter And Jealous.
It’s barely days old and it already feels futile adding anything to the Championship-to-Champions story of Kasper Schmeichel, Andy King, Jamie Vardy, Danny Drinkwater & Wes Morgan, to reiterate the great work in scouting N’Golo Kante and Riyad Mahrez, or to point out that Claudio Ranieri is so bloody lovely it’s almost to the point of a Dolmio advert caricature. You know this. The mythology will only be further ratified when Vinnie Jones (why not, eh?) is terrifyingly asking a journalist if he’s an ostrich in Jamie Vardy: The Movie.
It’s such a remarkable achievement that it’s managed to drift along, avoiding being pelted by the usual arsenal of hot-takes, snark and taking down a peg that is the lifeblood of the contemporary football zeitgeist. Whether it’s being swept up in the narrative, using it as ammunition to get extra laughs at Arsenal, Spurs, Man Utd & City, just being really happy for Ranieri, or — as has been the case for the fans at Stamford Bridge in recent weeks — using it to overcompensate for your own side’s failings. I’ve never known a football team as universally liked and willed-on as this season’s Leicester City.
Like everyone else, I’ve lived vicariously through this season. It’s given me genuine joy. How couldn’t it? But this success doesn’t belong to me or anyone else who’s been swept along by the romance. This success sincerely belongs to those that’ve grown up supporting the club, thinking a couple of league cups won by Muzzy Izzet and Emile Heskey would be as good as it could get.
Watching the scenes of jubilation in Leicester made me recall Leeds United’s victory parade in 1992, which still doesn’t seem real to me. That season — documented superbly by Dave Simpson in The Last Champions — always felt like something that would never happen again, as the title suggests.
Wilkinson’s Leeds, who also won the title in their second season in the top flight, has always felt like one of the stories banished to the annals of time, like Clough’s Derby and Forest sides. Football before 1993 was football before 1993. The Premier League era is the Premier League era, where glory is the reserve of the mega wealthy. This season shouldn’t have happened, a glorious anachronism. It’s difficult to digest.
Strachan, McAllister, Batty & Speed is an iconic midfield that will rightfully be the out-of-the-question benchmark for every Leeds United side since. This season Drinkwater, Kante, Mahrez and Albrighton have matched their achievements, in a landscape where everything is stacked so much more against them. There’s a very real sensation of living through something truly historic — that in 25 years there’ll be young fans lapping it up, insanely jealous of what their parents experienced. But instead of a dodgy VHS taped from Look North, it’ll be 4K-HD Helicopter cam, footage from drones over Leicester, and smartphone-recorded footage on the players Instagram.
For all that the sport has changed, I can still relate to a lot of what my father has seen over the years.
I’ve witnessed a footballing dynasty, like Shankly and Paisley’s Liverpool, in Ferguson’s Manchester United.
I’ve witnessed a continental tour de force with Messi’s Barcelona, like Cruyff’s Ajax before it.
Now, with Ranieri’s Leicester I’ve seen something a bit like Wilkinson’s Leeds.
But it’s not Leeds. Christ, how I wish it was. In all honestly, it’s above and beyond what even that legendary side achieved. I can only imagine the feeling around the city in the last few weeks, or the tension at Elland Road, or the ecstasy in bars and pubs watching a match like Chelsea — Spurs, knowing the magnitude of the result.
I won’t be the only one suffering from severe pangs of jealousy — well entrenched top flight clubs like Liverpool, Everton, (formerly) Newcastle and Villa must be wondering how on earth Leicester got there first to a Premier League title, and a level below, sides of a similar size; anyone from Norwich to Sheffield Wednesday to Crystal Palace must be thinking why couldn’t that be us?
There’s particular parallels with Leeds. They serve as gutting reminders of what might have been if we’d kept our house in order. Facing similar administration issues, relegated together in 2004, and competing together in the championship, league one, and then the championship again — it’s a sad, slightly pathetic comfort, but nevertheless it feels like Leeds have a particularly strong claim to the “what if it were us?” Leicester question.
From the grounded questions, such as selling Kasper Schmeichel in 2011, to the more fantastical — such as wondering if we’d actually have been in a position to land the LMA Manager Of The Season instead of Uwe Rosler last summer, given him and his agent were unsuccessful “when sounding out Championship clubs”. A few years ago, might have we been in a position to sign Danny Drinkwater? Or Wes Morgan?
Such questions are, of course, quite ridiculous, and aided by hindsight — they could facetiously be rephrased “why didn’t we think to sign the entire XI of the most unfancied winners in the history of sport?”, and it ignores that while in terms of transfer fees and wage bill what Leicester did in the top flight was genuinely remarkable, it would be disingenuous to claim their Championship promotion wasn’t a result of their fiscal superiority.
Leeds haven’t had that kind of investment in the second tier, and it would be arrogant to suggest we have any right to it. With ownership, it’s the luck of the draw and unfortunately for Leeds, there hasn’t been a sugar daddy to stump up the cash.
What they do have a right to, as does any club, is ownership of integrity and competence. From Ridsdale’s vanity, to the crookedness of Bates, the cowboy regime of GFH up to the Massimo Cellino circus, Leeds United have been sold down the river.
The club has now tolerated five consecutive midtable Championship finishes. Aside from briefly flirting with relegation, it is now six years that Leeds have played a league game where it’s felt like anything is at stake. You’ll be hard pressed to find a club in the country with that kind of record — despite the ongoing circus behind the scenes, the club remains consistently stale, with no indication of moving forward.
With transfer funds reinvested shrewdly, some common sense behind the scenes, and just a bit of positive momentum and ambition, Leeds could be a lot closer to where they want to be. The club hasn’t demonstrated that, and the considerable amount of talent that has been at the club during this time has understandably left.
During this decade, the amount of players that have left Leeds to play at a higher level is stupefying. Kasper Schmeichel has just played every minute of a title-winning Premier League campaign; Fabian Delph was recently on the bench for a European Cup Semi-Final; Robert Snodgrass, Bradley Johnson and Jonny Howson have consecutively won Norwich’s player of the season; Adam Clayton has just been promoted with Middlesbrough; Max Gradel shone in Ligue 1 and is now playing Premier League football with Bournemouth; Tom Lees will be playing in this season’s play-off final. Luciano Becchio left Leeds as Championship top-scorer in a bizarre deal that benefited nobody. Ross McCormack has comfortably outscored the strikers we replaced him with, in a worse side. Sam Byram left for West Ham, and could be be the first of an exciting homegrown generation of players — Lewis Cook, Charlie Taylor, Alex Mowatt alongside him — to go as the club dwindles aimlessly. How many of those players would have moved on if we demonstrated moving in the right direction?
As much as it’s a nice daydream, the Leicester City parable isn’t one to give any club lofty ambitions of the league title, but a reminder of where a club could be with even a half of their nous.