Planet Football has tilted on its axis. The tectonic plates have shifted thanks to an almighty kick from an improbable source. Truly, this is the most outrageous of all sporting shocks. Who knew Tottenham Hotspur could be such a bunch of thugs?
But enough about the eye-gouging, hand-stamping, snot-flicking and retro 1970s kung-fu tackling Spurs in that X-rated match with Chelsea which ended their faint hopes of becoming champions of England. The real story – the one for the ages – is Leicester City winning the title.
The Foxes have won it for their raggle-taggle selves. For their city in all its East Midlands unremarkableness. For Richard III who missed the triumph by 531 years, his bones recently discovered underneath a local car park. For their manager Claudio Ranieri who, just when we thought he couldn’t possibly be any more of a sweetie, chose to miss Monday’s clinching match to nip over to Italy and take his 96-year-old mother to lunch. They’ve also won it for football – reminding us, not before time, that this is the greatest sport. And, really, this is a victory for anyone striving for anything against the odds.
Poor Hibernian, owing to some unfortunate outcomes from being in promising positions, would have a place in the dictionaries if chuckling rival fans had their way. To lose when you ought to win should be called “Hibsing it”, they contend. Well, maybe winning when you had no earthly right to do so should be known as “Leicestering it”.
Go back to the start of the season in the so-called best league in the world. In reality it’s an oligopoly. The same big four clubs always win it, and Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal all fancied winning it again, maybe even Liverpool too.
They spent the usual vast fortunes. Manchester United’s outlay on players in two years under Louis van Gaal is more than Leicester have spent in their entire history. United were going to do it – no City were; they always come back strong after losing the title. No, Chelsea would retain it, arrogantly returning to training late. No, this would be Arsenal’s year. So much money, so much presumption – but what happened?
Two managers from those five clubs were sacked while a third will be relieved of his post any day now. Van Gaal clings to his clipboard at Old Trafford in a desperate way, like he was involved in “sex masochism”. Arsene Wenger fiddles with the zip of that long coat to shelter him from the booing, from the seats not already vacated by the disgruntled.
Meanwhile, Ranieri returns from Rome to, as he might say, a “dilly-ding, dilly-dong” of a celebration. The city wakes up to discover it’s the centre of the universe. The world’s media run from crashingly normal pub to thuddingly homogenous mall to interview every inhabitant of a place that, up until a few weeks ago, they were calling “Lie-sester”. The style-obsessed all want to know where they can buy the chandelier glimpsed in Jamie Vardy’s house on the camera-phone footage of his team-mates bouncing in celebration and threatening the Richter scale like one of the King Power Stadium’s mini-quakes, ever since the impossible dream looked like it might just happen.
Seriously, though, let’s talk football. You can fluke a cup win but not a league triumph. Yes, the usual suspects have been varying degrees of terrible and Chelsea’s performances have been almost actionable. But Leicester have been quick, brave, cunning, defiant and proof that a proper team, brilliantly coached, can beat collections of superstars and footballer-tourists, too rich to want to try harder than Wes Morgan and the cast-offs in the Leicester side.
This piece in praise of the Foxes is only mentioning Riyad Mahrez now – surely another record. He has been the guy, while working as hard as everyone else in the team, to sprinkle stardust on their performances. Presumably he’s Algeria’s Strictly Come Dancing champ, ten times over, only no one in England knew, or thought N’Golo Kante’s ceaseless running and heroic interception rate while playing in France were sufficiently glamorous attributes – or bothered to look at Vardy because how the heck was a non-league striker going to cut it in “the Prem”.
Vardy’s story – from turning out in front of three men and a dog to a stupendous back-heeled goal for his first touch of the ball against world champions Germany – is inspirational, as is Leicester’s. The message of both is to never stop dreaming. And ignore the boasting of the big boys because it might be hollow.
Of course, as well as giant hearts and no little skill you also need to be lucky and cute (rotational fouling, to avoid picking up too many yellow cards, was a wizard wheeze). You also need a brilliant coach to praise, cajole and feed you pizza at exactly the right moments. Yes, the same Ranieri who never indulged in mind-games or fought with other managers – and who the experts predicted would be sacked and his team relegated.
Leicestering it – let’s have more of that. In football and in life.