Thank You for Another Remarkably Defiant Season.
Standing alone as the final English representative in the Champions League, Leicester defied all expectations to reach the quarter final stage, and displayed a resilience that has eluded our clubs at the top level of football for years now. In such a rollercoaster of a season, this European adventure has at times provided a breath of fresh air, dismissed a certain esteemed Italian and cemented this team’s miraculous status in an era where financial firepower seemed to be the only key to success.
The Foxes’ story began in September with two excellent results against a disappointing Club Brugge and a continental ever-present in FC Porto. Back when things were rosier for Ranieri and his men, they were displaying many of the excellent qualities which crowned them champions of England only five months earlier. By the start of November, following two unbeaten outings against FC Copenhagen, the Champions had taken a commanding lead over Group G and seemed almost unbeatable in the most prestigious competition club football has to offer.
Despite a 5-0 drubbing at the hands of Porto in November, and languishing in 15th place in the Premier League, Leicester had already cemented top spot in the group. Leicester would be the only comfortable group winners out of this season’s English constituents. They proved that a lack of European experience, poor domestic form and dismissive critics would serve as motivation in another extraordinary effort from Leicester City.
The Foxes booked themselves a trip to Andalucía in the spring to face a Sevilla team who were 3rd in La Liga and galvanized by their new coach Jorge Sampaoli. A disappointing first leg in the tie was offset by a Jamie Vardy goal, a glimmer of hope in an otherwise despondent performance. Their efforts were so poor in Spain that 24 hours later, Ranieri was callously handed his P45 and shown the door. Manager-less and spiralling downwards at an alarming rate in the Premier League, the titleholders looked set for a relegation from the division they had conquered just ten months prior. But yet again, with capitulation seeming to be their only possibility, Leicester dug in, rallied around their new coach and found a way to thrust themselves from a relegation fight. This rediscovered confidence and optimism came at the perfect juncture, as a heroic effort against the Spaniards in March would rewrite the clubs history books once more, daring every fan to dream again.
But this fantasy was not to be, with a gritty and hardened Atletico Madrid side determined to break Leicester’s rebellion against the odds. Outclassed and outfought at the Vicente Calderon in their 1-0 loss, Atletico outlasted Leicester and could easily have made the tie a formality if they had been less wasteful on the evening. Over 180 minutes, many teams struggle against such defensively vaunted opposition, yet Leicester had more than three times as many shots as Atletico in last night’s draw and perhaps could point to a controversial penalty decision in Spain and what might have been had Vardy converted in the 67 minute as proof of their magnificent effort.
Despite a disappointing end to this season’s Champions League effort, Leicester packed more than just a punch to surprise pundits, opposition and the world again. The King Power Stadium was rocking night after night. These players have defied belief whilst exuding confidence, energy and quality that eluded their domestic peers. Regardless of the individual highs and lows of this season, every real football fan will thank Leicester for yet another show of boldness, and applaud their astonishing efforts in Europe for yet another season.
Words: Jacob Thorburn
Image: Huffington Post