COLUMN: Leicester’s story can inspire any sports fan

first_imgIt may be long past March, but on Tuesday, the craziest Cinderella run in sports came to an end. Across the pond, English soccer club Leicester City hosted Spanish outfit Atlético Madrid in the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League, and the two teams played to a 1-1 draw, which knocked Leicester out of the most prestigious soccer competition on the planet not named the World Cup (Madrid had won the first leg of the tie, 1-0).Oh, right. Leicester. They’re still around? The Foxes’ miraculous run to the 2015-2016 English Premier League title against 5,000-to-1 preseason odds made headlines in the United States last year, but their follow-up campaign has received far less coverage. Not that it matters anymore, as Leicester has been knocked out of all its cup competitions and currently sits 12th in the Premier League table.But at the conclusion of this wild two-year journey, I want to look back and appreciate the magnitude of the Leicester City story. American sports fans are among the most passionate and obsessed in the world, and it would be a shame if we didn’t take the time to soak in what may truly be the most unlikely series of events in modern athletics — at least at a purely competitive level.Think about this: When Leicester faced off against Manchester City (owned by billionaire United Arab Emirates deputy prime minister Sheikh Mansour) in 2015, the Foxes’ lineup cost a whopping £270 million less to assemble than their opponent’s. And we aren’t even talking payroll here — that number accounts for transfer fees alone, which simply grant clubs the right to negotiate a contract with a player from a different team.Leicester received a gargantuan influx of cash upon winning the Premier League title last year (estimated north of £100 million in prize money and revenue sharing), but even with that extra income and subsequent spending, the Foxes committed a club-record transfer fee of £29 million last summer for Algerian forward Islam Slimani — a figure City has surpassed six times in the past five years. Another English titan, Manchester United, smashed the world record in August, purchasing midfielder Paul Pogba for nearly £90 million.That should give you an idea of the competitive imbalance in professional European soccer and the insurmountable disadvantage Leicester somehow overcame to win the Premiere League. And this was just two years after the team earned promotion from the Football League Championship: England’s second tier. Leicester narrowly avoided relegation during its first top-flight season, sitting in dead last for 140 days before pulling itself out of the bottom three during the season’s final weeks. Many considered it one of the most miraculous escapes in league history. One year later, the Foxes lifted the Premier League trophy.But the miraculous title run somehow may not be the most compelling part of the story. There’s a reason a Leicester City movie is already in the works from The Fighter screenwriters Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson. The film will focus on the Foxes’ most emblematic player: Jamie Vardy. The 30-year-old striker has been at Leicester since the club’s Championship days, and his rags-to-riches story propelled the Foxes throughout their unlikely campaign. In 2004, Vardy was playing non-league soccer (below England’s top four divisions) with Stocksbridge Park Steels while also working part-time in a factory as a carbon-fiber technician. While at Stocksbridge, Vardy was convicted of assault when two men mocked his friend for wearing a hearing aid, and Vardy played with an electronic tag for six months, needing to get subbed off early during away games to make it home in time for his court-mandated curfew. Nearly a decade later, he set a new Premier League record, scoring in 11 consecutive matches during Leicester’s title-winning run, and turned down a move to Arsenal, one of England’s most prestigious clubs. Throughout all this, he retained his blue-collar persona, crushing Red Bulls and playing games with nicotine patches, snuff and nicotine gum.And Vardy is just one man on a roster chock-full of unconventional journeys to soccer’s pinnacle. Leicester captain Wes Morgan recorded more than 400 appearances in second-division soccer before becoming the third field player ever to play every minute of a Premier League-winning season — earning a Team of the Year honor in the process. This year, he also became the first Jamaican in history to score a goal in the Champions League. Two of the 2015-2016 season’s biggest stars, N’Golo Kanté and Riyad Mahrez, had spent their entire careers in the French lower divisions before joining the Foxes, and they were named alongside Morgan in last season’s Team of the Year (Kanté has since secured a £29 million move to Chelsea, who currently lead the Premier League).Somehow, this group summited arguably the toughest domestic league in the world. And this season, after a knee-jerk firing of manager Claudio Ranieri when Leicester stumbled out of the gates, the club made a run to the Champions League quarterfinal: a stage European soccer giants such as Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham and Paris Saint Germain and their bottomless coffers failed to reach. The ultimate fairytale may not have come true, but the club’s achievements aren’t impressive — they’re unfathomable. Let’s soak it all in one last time before the miracle inevitably fades from our short memories.We may never hear of Leicester City again … until its movie overcomes 5,000-to-1 odds to take home Best Picture at the 2020 Academy Awards.Ollie Jung is a junior studying print and digital journalism. He is also the sports editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “Jung Money,” runs on Thursdays.last_img

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