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Hubert Lawrence | Leicester City: Hope is alive

Published:Thursday | May 12, 2016 | 5:00 AMHubert Lawrence
Leicester City's captain, Jamaican international Wes Morgan (centre) and manager Claudio Ranieri lift the trophy as the team celebrates winning the English Premier League, after the match against Everton at the King Power Stadium, Leicester, England, last Saturday.

Maybe when the Olympics, the NBA play-offs, football's European Championships and the Grand Slam of tennis are over, there will be a bigger story than Leicester City's phenomenal win in the English Premier League (EPL).

Until then, Leicester City sits in pole position. There's no way around it. Leicester is the unlikeliest champion of 2016 so far.

It's a heartwarming story. Led on the field of play by Jamaican Wes Morgan, Leicester's band of outsiders surprised everyone.

The last time Leicester were crowned football champions of England was 1929. That's before the World Cup was first played, before Jesse Owens won four gold medals in the 1936 Olympics, and before George Headley's bat announced that he was the first legend of West Indies cricket.

Last year, Leicester were tottering on the verge of relegation only to clamour to safety near the end of the season. Now Leicester are the champions of England. It's remarkable.

The experts kept telling us that Leicester would struggle because their squad was thin on quality and if players like goal machine Jamie Vardy, defenders Morgan and Robert Huth, goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel and midfielder Riyad Mahrez got hurt. Somehow, they all stayed healthy and productive.

 

CURIOUS COMBINATION

 

Though the champions were on display all season, no one decoded Leicester City's curious combination of high-speed counter-attacks and catenaccio, an Italian style of football where stingy defence is the platform for success.

The unlikely triumph gave the team's wily Italian coach, Claudio Ranieri, the title he missed when Chelsea placed second in 2004. It made loyal midfielder Andy King the first player to win league titles in England's top three divisions with the same club. Best of all, it made Morgan the first Jamaican to win the EPL.

Nigel Pearson, the manager who carried Leicester to the Premiership and kept them up last year, should probably get a pat on the back too. Ranieri didn't tinker too much with the combative style Pearson created for the new champions. In fact, the Pearson template proved to be a launchpad.

The results frustrated a much-improved Tottenham Hotspurs unit and left the expensively assembled pair of Manchester teams and Arsenal battling for places in the 2017 European Champions League. Teams like West Ham United, Southampton and maybe even EPL debutants Bournemouth must be encouraged. Leicester have proven that small-budget teams can win.

It will confuse those who worship ball possession as a footballing virtue. Vardy and Mahrez have scored 24 and 17 goals, respectively, and on 67, the outsiders have outscored all other Premiership teams except Spurs, 68, and City, 70. Yet Leicester never dominate the statistics on ball possession.

Arsenal lead the League when it comes to possession on 56.9 per cent. The Gunners are the League's fifth best scorers, with 61 goals.

The aggrieved will argue. United are still adjusting to life after Alex Ferguson. City may have disturbed the mental balance of the team by slow-firing its coach Manuel Pellegrini. Even though these Blues reached the Champions League semis for the first time in the club's history, a spark was missing. Injury to Vincent Kompany and the prolonged absence of his stout leadership on the field didn't help.

Arsenal were one fit world-class central defender away from a real title challenge as World Cup winner Per Mertesacker, like Kompany, struggled.

Deposed champions Chelsea had a horrid year.

Next season, the big-name clubs may fix their maladies. New managers and players may refresh them all and prove that 2016 was an anomaly.

That won't matter to the history makers at Leicester.

Thanks to them, hope for small teams in big leagues is well and truly alive.

- Hubert Lawrence correctly predicted 71 per cent of the 2014 World Cup results, including the final, won by Germany.