Why Leicester's downturn is all part of the game
Welcome to Tuesday Team Talk. Every week, the H+K Sports team will give a unique perspective on the week’s football action and the stories making the headlines across the beautiful game.
Newton’s Third Law of Motion states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. For Leicester City, winning an unprecedented first Premier League title in 2016, one of the most brilliant stories in sporting history, appears to have unfortunately resulted in a negative reaction. While Sir Isaac spent the later years of his life living in Leicester Square, the team that shares its name are looking squarely at a bitter return to the Championship. Sunday’s dismal 2-0 defeat to Swansea has left the Foxes in a desperate situation, just one point clear of the relegation zone.
The reaction of the players and management to the club’s greatest success has been a period of decline, categorised by a terrible run of form and whispers of disquiet among several members of the squad, who, just months ago were high on confidence at Jamie Vardy’s house. Though new players have been brought in, the loss of their very own Duracell bunny N’Golo Kante together with other teams’ ability to figure out and smother the style of play that wowed and bamboozled in equal measure last season has left everyone at the King Power Stadium wondering just how far the crown will fall.
But whatever happens come May Leicester’s slump is no legacy of a Faustian pact, a deal with the devil; they did not rely on hundreds of millions of pounds of investment to claim the league and there have been no cries of foul play we’ve seen in other sports. It was simply a scarcely believable narrative that came true due to hard work, pizza, and the unshakable bond between a coach and a group of players who reached a point where they did not believe they could be beaten. A classic sports narrative the like of which brands and creators often tell through a sporting lens is just like the one described, where messages and outcomes are only positive, hopeful and inspiring.
But we know this is not always the reality in football. Take Portsmouth, for example. The former Premier League outfit were FA Cup winners in 2008 which led to a two-legged UEFA Cup tie against European giants AC Milan the following season. Yet financial mismanagement resulted in near meltdown and by 2013 the club were in administration for the second time in four years, stranded in League Two. For Pompey fans who now own the club and have brought it back from the brink, their horrendous experience of the turmoil both on and off the pitch doesn’t quite equate to what the champions’ supporters are going through but if a club like Leicester can rise to the top of English football they can just as easily go the other way. It really is true that anything can happen in this game.
"Maybe one of the greatest stories in sport will be tainted by relegation. It takes something away from it,” the Sky pundit Jamie Carragher said last week. For storytellers, Leicester’s story is still fascinating. Of course, unless you’re a Derby or Nottingham Forest fan then you’ll have no deep desire to see them become the first champions to be relegated since 1938. However, contrary to what Carragher thinks, there is an almost tragic beauty in how the fairy tale could very well come to an end in May. If anything, it makes their achievement last season all the more remarkable and suggests the squad involved were nothing special but performed beyond what even they thought they were capable of. There are micro plot elements that add to the intrigue too, not least Vardy’s rise to prominence from non-league football and his admirable loyalty in turning down a move to Arsenal last summer. Sadly he may feel his allegiance has counted for nothing if he’s still on the Leicester books as they prepare to travel to, say, Burton Albion in August. For what it’s worth, I believe Leicester will stay up this season. The challenge they will face next season boils down to how they react to the differing exertions of two completely opposite seasons.