Thursday, May 19, 2016
Those Fantastic Foxes
Considering the millions of words from the thousands of stories written since the victory of those fantastic Foxes, it hardly seems as if there is anything more that could, or should, be added. And yet, so astounding was their achievement, it almost compels one to say something, if only to provide further demonstration as to how inadequate words are when describing an event such as this.
Joe Posnanski's article shortly after Leicester clinched the title says it about as well as anybody can, when one is trying to describe an impossibility. As pundits struggled to come up with comparable examples of upset championships, their comparisons inevitably fell short. It wasn't like the Miracle on Ice victory of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team, a team that had shown flashes of brilliance during the months leading up to the Olympics and displayed a work ethic that made them a difficult team to beat, particularly in a short tournament. Win seven games and you've got the gold medal, but try doing the same thing over the course of an entire season.
Others looked to the New York Mets of 1969, the Miracle Mets, who shockingly won the World Series after never having posted a wining season (or anything close to it) in the previous seven years of their existence. And yet that is ultimately found lacking as well; for in taking the title, Leicester had to overcome the so-called "Big Five" of the Premier League - Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool* and Manchester City, teams that had so dominated the league over the years that only one team outside of that group had ever won the championship in the league's 23-year history. During the 122 years the competition has been held, those five sides had, between them, won the top-flight championship 65 times. So the Mets comparison pales; imagine the Mets winning a league that contained not one but five New York Yankees teams, with a couple of Boston Red Sox thrown in for good measure. Yes, the Big Five may have had down seasons, but the point is that Leicester did not.
*Although Liverpool has yet to win a title since the formation of the Premier League in 1992, they took the championship 18 times before that.
European soccer's system of promotion and relegation makes the accomplishment that much more impossible; Leicester spent almost all of last year in last place before going on an improbably run of seven victories in their final nine matches to escape relegation; nonetheless, they were the consensus favorite to be one of the three teams relegated this year. Their new manager, Claudio Ranieri, a journeyman coach who had never won a major title, was favored to be the first manager sacked. At the beginning of this season, Ranieri's goal was simply to stay in the Premier League. Had he even mused about the possibility of winning the championship, he probably would have been locked up.
It's not as if Leicester bought themselves a championship, either. The payroll for the entire team was roughly equal to the salary of one of the big team's star players, and with no salary cap in European soccer, most teams are able to buy up promising players on the off chance they might turn out to be stars.Their roster was comprised mostly of players unwanted by other teams and picked up for relatively low prices. Some were late bloomers, others had simply gone unnoticed by bigger sides, most of them had never been given much of a chance.
It's safe to say, therefore, that one of last year's worst teams came into this season competing in a league that was basically rigged against them, set up so that only a member of the Big Five could win. There are no odds on that happening. You can't bet on the impossible.
Leicester's own supporters, the ones who had stuck with them through thin and thin, were overcome with emotion, and it was common to see tears running down their cheeks as they watched their team raise the Premier League trophy at the final home match of the year, after having had Andrea Bocelli, no less, serenade them during a pre-game ceremony. No team in the Premier League had had such a rabid fan base during the season; in home games where Leicester scored, it wasn't uncommon for the stadium to shake from the commotion created by the cheering fans, so much so that it would register on the nearby university's Richter scale.
And so the impossible happened, and it's difficult to say whether or not anything like it will ever happen again - can ever happen again, for that matter. The story of Leicester City's Premier League win has passed into folklore, to be handed down from generation to generation. Songs will be sung about the heroic Foxes, ballads of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez and Kasper Schmeichel and Shinji Okazaki and Wes Morgan and all the rest, and Claudio Raineri will never have to buy himself a drink again. Books will be written, movies will be made, and everyone will say that they remember when. Even if it were to happen again, if Aston Villa or Newcastle were to recover from relegation and take the crown in two or three years, or if someone else were to come along in a decade or two and duplicate the achievement, it would merely be just that, an imitation of the original, in the same way that an art student might sit in a museum and copy a Monet. By definition, the impossible can never happen more than once.
Perhaps that's something we ought to remember more often, and learn from it, for if there was anything truly important about Leicester's victory, anything to change the course of a person's life, it was the demonstration that anything truly is possible,
Even the impossible.