The Mystery Beneath a Miracle: What inspired Leicester’s Historic 2015-16 title?

Miracle. A strange seven-letter word, isn’t it? It sounds absolutely hilarious and improbable at the moment, and then again, it gives you a glimmer of hope in the darkest of times in the other. Ask the people of East Midlands who experienced a similar twist of fate when a newly promoted Leicester in 2014-15 struggled to stay afloat and barely escaped the relegation battle.

But then again, fate is unpredictable. No one in the world would have imagined that even in their wildest dreams, such a side would be crowned “Champions of England’ a year later. The event, widely heralded as ‘Greatest shock in sporting history, has given the 2015-16 Leicester side a unique nickname, “The Unbelievables”. Let’s look into one of the most unravelling mysteries of football.

Even if the players won the title, the success architects were Leicester City’s scout Steve Walsh and manager Sir Claudio Ranieri. Ranieri, a battle-hardened veteran who has been managing teams for the past 35 years, was appointed as the manager of Leicester City on 13th July 2015. The Tinkerman, as the media know him, often employs a standard 4-4-2 tactic that focuses on players’ fitness and work rate. Ranieri instilled disciplined fitness practices and organized team play within the first few days of his appointment. Over the course of the season, Ranieri entirely focused on Premier League, neglecting cup competitions.

He devised a standard 4-4-2 tactic with two wide midfielders holding wingers and wingbacks, while full-backs provided defensive cover wherever needed. The two central midfielders were responsible for winning the ball and passing it to the Trequartista or a False 9. The other forward was responsible for goal-scoring. The simple twist to this trick was right midfielder cut in often to participate in the attack. It is such a simple and organized tactic compared to Tiki-Taka and Gegenpress, but its effect is visible.

Leicester was defeated thrice in the whole season, thanks to excellent defensive performances. The Foxes’ captain Wes Morgan and Kasper Schmeichel played every minute of that season. All thanks to an increased focus on fitness by Tinkerman.

But there is another man who deserves as much praise as Ranieri. Steve Walsh, the Assistant Manager and the chief scout of Leicester, unearthed a priceless gem of ball-winner in N’Golo Kante. He also brought Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy, who were instrumental in that title-winning campaign. Walsh was also famous for finding talents like Didier Drogba and Gianfranco Zola. While at Everton, he recommended the club to sign Harry Maguire, Andy Robertson, and Erling Haaland for a combined £24 million, which the club rejected and is regretting to date. 

Jamie Vardy netted in 24 goals that season and also created a record of scoring in 11 consecutive matches. Riyad Mahrez scored 17 times and assisted 11 times during the campaign. While Leicester’s offence was heavily dependent on Vardy and Mahrez, and the attackers did repay the trust, the real heroes were someone else. The midfield partnership of N’Golo Kante and Danny Drinkwater led the Premier League in Ball Recoveries and Interceptions, effectively winning the ball back and passing it to more creative teammates. This engine helped Leicester maintain its good form and form constant pressure on the opposition. 

Image Credits: premierleague.com

While it was evident that Leicester played a patient game, they were often fluid and deadly in their counter-attacks. Riyad Mahrez was a creative force for Leicester. His left foot was a beauty to watch throughout the season, creating 84 key chances. While Vardy didn’t help much in defence, he compensated for it by his excellence in the attack. A pacy forward with world-class tier finishing, he was the ideal poacher for any manager. Vardy is an apex predator inside the box, demonstrating his ferocious goal-scoring instinct, which could send shivers down the spine for even the best of goalkeepers and defenders. All this was led by exemplary on-field leadership of Wes Morgan, who was the ideal captain for such a team. 

One should be jealous of the people of East Midlands. Leicester transformed from a bunch of feeble scaredy cats to pride of dominating lions, who tore apart the English Premier League with such ferocity and ambition that even captivated the best in the business. Their desperation to survive turned into a wild and robust desire to win within a year.

An underdog overcoming all the hurdles and taking the favourites head-on is a common trope in movies. But little did we know that a team with odds of 5000-1 would overcome everything together as a team and create history unlike any other. If Sergio Aguero’s 93:20 goal was a moment that changed English Football forever by ending Manchester United’s dominance, then this moment was the culmination of various efforts and sacrifices linked together to lead to the epiphany of the greatest ever underdog moment, not just in the history of football but in the history of sports.

This might seem like a miracle, but in reality, it was a die-hard effort of a team that chose to fight against all the odds to gain respect and, in the process, create history. Calling it a miracle or a shock just plainly disrespects their fighting spirit. The impressive confidence and faith that team displayed give why Leicester deserved to be the Champions. Cheers to such a beautiful team spirit.

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