Leicester City: Sliding doors leading to glory


Leicester City’s English Premier League triumph is rightly categorised as a fairytale but it also epitomises the sliding doors nature of modern sport.

When Tottenham Hotspur coughed up a 2-0 lead on Monday night in west London to Chelsea – who were reigning title-holders up to that point – the little club that could from the East Midlands claimed the domestic crown and glory that goes with it.

Such a result was incompressible back in June when the club, owned by Thai Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, axed manager Nigel Pearson and embarked on a search to replace him with a manager who could improve on their 14th-place finish from the 2014/15 season.

Pearson’s dismissal was not your normal sacking. Clubs part ways with managers often after an under-performing season but the modern want to ‘spread the word’ of the club, an off-season trip abroad, brought on a calamity which resulted in the coach and three players leaving the club.

Pearson’s son, James, plus Tom Hopper and Adam Smith were involved in a consenting adult encounter during their tour of Thailand. In the ranking of player shenanigans that’s not much, except that it was filmed, and  the video was leaked. Racial abuse was hurled at a Thai female during the act which clearly tipped it into the unacceptable category. None of the three players involved were first team regulars but context is everything and that saga must have made club management wondering what they were in for during the coming season. Despite coming off securing Premier League survival in the season after they had won promotion from the Championship, clearly that failed to meet expectations.

Pearson was on shaky ground prior to the off-field saga but the incident appeared to be the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’ as the club parted ways with the former Hull City manager. This was met with strong opposition from Gary Lineker, former England footballer. Lineker, a former Leicester player, is a friend of Pearson but he has since swung in behind the team.

But a manager sacking wasn’t the only key off-season situation which helped lead Leicester down to their path to Premier League success. A halted shift of striker Jamie Vardy away from the club proved crucial.

Vardy, who went on to score 22 goals this term in the league, was the subject of a bid from Championship club Sheffield Wednesday just over 12 months ago. English Premier League followers will scoff at this possible move but those devotees of football before 1992 will be aware that ‘the Owls’ are a big club (like Leeds United and Nottingham Forest). Vardy is a childhood fan of the Owls and was with them early in his youth career. Despite the fact, Wednesday are playoff-bound this season the quashing of the move turned out well for Vardy.

Even allowing for the efforts of the other Leicester players such as PFA Player of the Year Riyad Mahrez it would seem improbable that the Foxes could have claimed the crown without Vardy’s magnificent form which has the striker set for a key role in England’s Euro 2016 campaign.

In addition to the Vardy retention, and following on from the Pearson’s exit, it’s worth noting Claudio Ranieri was not prominent in the next manager markets (yes they exist) with betting agencies to be his replacement.

The Italian last managed a club in France, guiding Monaco to second in Ligue 1 for the 2013/14 season. Despite finishing behind moneyed power-house Paris Saint-Germain it wasn’t enough for him to be kept on and the one-time Juventus boss moved on to manage Greece for a period, infamously in charge when they lost to the lowly Faroe Islands. A UEFA Supercup winner with Valencia in 2004 when he joined them after leaving Chelsea Ranieri was long odds for the appointment.

Whilst there seems to be a stock standard list of potential managers thrown up when jobs are available in England. Ranieri moving back to the EPl was so unrealistic the Tinkerman jokes started as soon as he was appointed. It’s rare for managers to leave a country and then be seen as a viable option having been away for such an extended period of time. Roy Hodgson faced similar criticism having spent nearly a decade overseas (including managing international sides) in between his time at Blackburn before joining Fulham in 2007 and eventually moving up to manage England.

Leicester’s management could easily have looked for one of the rising managers in British football like Sean Dyche or Brendan Rodgers with then Bolton boss Neil Lennon also reported to have been in the running.

The Thai pre-season tour is not the only shadow which hung over this campaign with the Guardian’s David Conn revealing details last month of financial irregularities from Leicester’s time in the lower divisions surrounding Financial Fair Play requirements. Given the spending on players in recent years of their Premier League rivals, Leicester’s effort this season is hugely laudable but when they were on a more level playing field of the Championship, if they were (as one owner of another Championship club put it) engaging in ‘financial doping’ there is a query over their rise and ability to stay in the top flight last season. However, when we are comparing behaviour in a league which allows Massimo Cellino, Leeds owner, to still run a club despite a series of less than honourable antics in recent times maybe it’s not even the worst offender.

Let’s remember the deal current EPL side West Ham got on their future home at London’s Olympic Stadium. In the sphere of dubious financial scenarios in English football, I’m not sure Leicester would even make the Europa League.

Sliding doors in football. Monaco doesn’t get upset at running second, Leicester stays home in the summer of 2015 or Jamie Vardy returns as the prodigal son to Sheffield – any of those three things could have upset the alignment needed for Leicester’s title triumph.

The fact Ranieri, title-less in terms of league championships as a manager, was able to bring together a bunch of footballers without an apparent title pedigree and drive them to victory is the true epitomisation of capitalising on their sliding doors moments but also making sure that Leicester (33/1 to win the 2016/17 title) made the most of their premiership window.

I’m not sure how the lads from English band Kasabian viewed the result but they are amongst the fans who can’t have dreamt of this title in their life-time. They will be celebrating the result with an upcoming concert at the King Power Stadium. Speaking of Kings, perhaps we will leave the final word on the Foxes’ triumph to Richard III who also went through upheaval in Leicester in recent years.

This piece first appeared on From the Sideline of Sport.

About Hamish Neal

Born in Lower Hutt New Zealand Hamish is forever wedded to all things All Black, All Whites, Tall Blacks and more. Writing more nowadays in his 'spare time' (what is that anyway?) but still with a passion for broadcasting. Has worked in various sports development roles in England, Northern Ireland and Australia.


  1. I’m not an avid follower of the EPL but I am fascinated as to how the Leicester ‘furrytale’ came about so I appreciate this piece in the puzzle Hamish.

    It must be equated to a freak once in 1000 years perfect storm. I wonder how much it also had to do with the usual suspects all having relatively off seasons at the same time.

    It’s fantastic for the Premier League. A reason why I am not an avid follower is that the same clubs share/buy the spoils every year.

  2. Good onya Hamish, my better half hails from your neck of the woods. She’s from Masterton.

    I don’t follow soccer, but have obtained an interest in Leicester City the last few months. David, the barmen from our bowling club is from Leicester, and we’ve had a few chats about how well their season was progressing. David flew back home a fortnight ago for the big event. Good onya David.

    The sporting triumph iinvolving Leicester that I am most familiar with is when their first County Cricket Championship back in 1975. They were captained by that wily old Yorkshire man Ray Illingworth. In their playing ranks were former Australian bowler, Graham McKenzie, the Zimbabwean pair of Brian Davison and Paddy Clift, as well as a swag of players who appeared occasionally for England such as Balderstone, Birkenshaw and Tolchard. Leicester were one of only two sides to defeat Ian Chappelll’s’ Australian tourists that English summer.

    Congratulations to all at leicester City, G’day in cyber space to David,and Hamish,keep up the good work.

    Glen !

  3. Interesting stuff Hamish.
    As a spurs supporter I found the draw to Chelsea hard to handle but happy for Leicester and even happier we are currently ahead of Arsenal. For the first time in maybe 20+ years.
    New blood at the top of EPL and UEFA is good for Football.

  4. Appreciate the kind feedback folks,
    JD, there is certainly an element of the ‘big teams’ under-performing. Eg. Man U will have a new coach next season because success is demanded but that doesn’t make LVG a bad coac.
    Glen. I know another David who nearly travelled back for the last few games. Good on your man from the bowling club. Great 75 story from the cricket as well.
    and Dave, you certainly can be happy with the season you have had. Stars aligning for next season?
    Thanks again chaps.Here is the piece from the blog which has the links. The Richard III piece is epic.

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