Day 6

Leicester City: the unlikeliest of champions

This week, the Leicester City Foxes overcame 5,000 to 1 odds and won the English Premier League. They did it with a journeyman coach, an unheralded squad and a paltry budget in a league that typically rewards big-spending behemoths. Stefan Szymanski, author of Money and Football: A Soccernomics Guide, explains how they did it and what this means for fans of sad-sack teams everywhere.
Britain Football Soccer - Leicester City fans watch the Chelsea v Tottenham Hotspur game in pub in Leicester - 2/5/16Leicester City fans celebrate Chelsea's second goal Eddie Keogh/Reuters Livepic TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTX2CI0A

The king is dead. Long live the king.

On paper, it's already a done deal but this Saturday marks the moment the Leicester City players have been waiting for: they finally see their stunned reflections in the Premier League Trophy.

A rags to riches soccer team overcoming 5000-1 odds to win is the latest in a string of unexpected, worldly events for the small, English city. Leicester is known for its curry houses, its industry, its charm and, as of last year, the resting place of King Richard III.

The monarch's remains were discovered in a parking lot demolition in 2012 and after extensive study, reburied a kilometre and a half from King Power stadium.

A resurrected king. King Power stadium. We should have seen the hints.

Leicester has deposed perennial favourite and big-spending Chelsea to take England's throne but as Stefan Szymanski tells Brent Bambury, the regicide doesn't stop there.

"Whoever has the most money can just buy the best talent and those teams almost always win," says the author of Money and Football: A Soccernomics Guide. He says that's reliable up to 90% of the time.

Leicester had the twelfth highest payroll in the Premier league this season, making it a minnow compared to the likes of Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester United.

"To put that in perspective," Szymanski says, "Manchester City who are about four places behind them have a payroll of over 200-million pounds. That's about 4x as much as Leicester City."

And it's not just the payroll. It's talent too. The team's top scorer, James Vardy, wasn't good enough to make a professional squad four years ago. And despite leading some of Europe's top clubs, Leicester's manager Claudio Ranieri has never won… anything.

Still, Ranieri deserves some credit for getting this band of relative unknowns to play out of their skin for a full season and a half.

Last April, Leicester City Football Club waged one of the most ambitious and unlikely campaigns in soccer history. The Foxes were still licking their wounds from a fierce relegation battle that saw them win seven of their last nine games just to maintain their place in the Premier League.

But they kept winning. And winning. So was it magic? Was it luck? Did King Richard bring Leicester City Football Club some kind of royal intervention?

Szymanski chalks it up to chance. "Sometimes random things happen," he says. "Sometimes these random events come together in some kind of sequence and really extraordinary things happen. I think that's the only story you can explain here."

But is there a blueprint? Has Leicester stumbled on a soccer version of Billy Beane's moneyball concept?

"No" says Szymanski. "Anyone who says they have a clear explanation for this - they are a charlatan."

Regardless of what should have or could have happened, regardless of the uphill battle that awaits them as they defend their title next year, this Saturday is Leicester City's day. The players will douse themselves in champagne, the fans will sing and stomp and douse themselves in overpriced stadium beer. People will watch from all over the world as commentators remind us about the odds.

Magic or not, Leicester City wears the crown.

now