Football is all about stories. It's a sport borne on the tongue, one infatuated with and propelled onwards by the lore that lubricates conversations between father and child, worker and colleague, passenger and taxi driver, sunbed fraulein and Brit abroad. The reason it is the world's favourite game is that it provides a common language and a compelling narrative that simply never stops running. It's more ubiquitous than grass and as constant as the London traffic.
Leicester's title win, clinched last night as Chelsea held a tantruming Tottenham side to a 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge, is the best story of football's modern era. Attempt to quantify it and the numbers just spiral out; it's not merely the 5,000/1 start-of-season odds, endlessly quoted, that you have to take into account. Multiply them by the 27 squad players whose meandering journeys through life have had to align for the team, the club and the city to arrive at a point where they will be flanking Wes Morgan as he, unbelievably, hoists the Premier League trophy into the Leicestershire air on Saturday night.
None have had easy journeys, a meat-raffle collection of bargain buys, non-league zealots, punchlines and criminals who've built careers operating below that rarefied echelon of football where glory can feel preordained. This is why it's disingenuous to refer to Leicester's magnificent success as a miracle. It's far more hard-earned than that, the kind of toil that turns sacrifice into a cult and sweat into a fetish in pursuit of fraternal respect.
As well as these threads coming together, Leicester's season has also relied heavily – crucially – on the personal life arcs of manager Claudio Ranieri and the chairman, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha. In general terms, Leicester's game plan hasn't shifted a great deal from last season to this: win the ball, take advantage of the modern tendency for Premier League full backs to push on by knocking the ball long into the channels for Vardy to chase, improvise from there.
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This was a tactical plan devised by Nigel Pearson, and Leicester still play like a team built by a man who once fought off a pack of wild dogs in the Carpathian mountains by hiding in a bush and blinding them, eye by eye, with his walking stick. But if the foundations and the ethic were laid by Pearson, it feels like Ranieri has given this team their ability to dream.
Ranieri is a strange and rightly cherished man, one who seems to operate somewhere between Kermit the frog, Jep Gambardella and an eccentric nan. Again, football returns to its stories for crucial context: the season has been enriched by tales of how Ranieri has been adopted by this part of the East Midlands, of the saunters he takes around the city, the patience with which he poses for photos, befriends market workers, eats his dinner in the restaurants; dilly-ding, dilly-dong.
Now he has assured that he will long be revered not just as a nice man, but also as a fantastic manager. No words you could utter to Ranieri today will be as satisfying as the poisonous riposte sent his way by Jose Mourinho as his Inter side were beating Ranieri's Juventus to the Serie A title back in 2008: "Ranieri? I guess he's right with what he said I am very demanding of myself and I have to win to be sure of things. This is why I have won so many trophies in my career. Ranieri, on the other hand, has the mentality of someone who doesn't need to win. He has won a Supercup and another small trophy… He's old and he hasn't won anything."
Now he's older and he has won something, the title in the world's most competitive and richest league, while Mourinho remains out of work, a bitter stalking horse consigned to the gossip columns at the business end of a season that has ended for Ranieri in endless garlands.
As much as Leicester's title win is overwhelmingly a victory for teamwork and submission to the collective cause, Ranieri's charges deserve their own praise, too. Jamie Vardy – a man who looks like he still has a musty pile of Max Power magazines and a Take Me to Your Dealer poster in his bedroom – has been nothing short of a phenomenon, a laser-guided blur of intense menace who gives the impression that there is nothing on Earth as satisfying as smashing a football as hard as you possibly can past a stressed-out man in foam gloves. N'Golo Kante, a player who seems to be everywhere at all times, a one-man swarm of tin wasps finding a route through a rainstorm. Riyad Mahrez, the forward signed for £400,000 from the French second-tier's Le Havre, has performed this season like one of those blokes down the park on his own who asks to join your game each week. And then there's Morgan, who alongside Robert Huth has marshalled a back four that has arguably been the section of the side that has performed furthest beyond the apparent sum of its parts.
None of which really does much to explain quite how this has happened. None of the pundits, players, managers or fans interviewed in the immediate aftermath of the king-making draw in West London seemed able to find the words to articulate it. "Unbelievable," they all seemed to end up saying, a word that has so often wound up a platitude in football that has taken on a renewed weight and poignancy this season because of what Leicester City have done and the things that achievement does in turn to the size of people's eyes, the trajectory of their smile.
As it turned out, the 100th consecutive night Leicester spent on top of the league was the night on which they won it, English football's first new champion in 38 years, the first league title Leicester have won in their 132-year history. From 14th last season to first this, with 14 wins by a one-goal margin and average possession rating of 42 percent in the first season of a manager who was welcomed into his job with scepticism and ridicule.
But the truth of the matter is that this has been a triumph beyond words and numbers, arguably the greatest upset in sporting history, won not in the capricious atmospheres of knockout competition but over the course of a 36-game campaign slogged out through all four seasons, in a league long considered to be sewn up by a monied quadropoly. If you'd told this story before it had begun, no one would have believed it. Now, they have to.
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