When Leicester City won the Premier League in 2016, they shocked the world. It really was one of the biggest underdog victories in the history of sport and reignited our faith that miracles can happen in soccer. They had been the first unfancied team to lift the Premier League in years, but will they be the last? We’re asking if there will ever be another Premier League miracle like Leicester City again.
How it happened
Let’s start with how Leicester actually managed to defeat the odds. The season before they won the league they had narrowly escaped getting relegated, and they began 2015-16 with odds of 5000-1 in the UK of being champions. That meant if someone bet $1 they would make $5,000.
No one thought Leicester would be near the top of the table and if they found themselves that high, they’d get a nosebleed and fall pretty quickly. They defied all the odds and kept winning games they were supposed to lose thanks to their togetherness as a team. If ever there was proof that soccer is a team game then Leicester’s success was it.
They found themselves at the top of the league and fought so hard to stay there they were deserving champions in the end. It was a perfect storm for Leicester because all of the contenders in the league were having off years. Teams like Manchester United and City, Arsenal, Liverpool, and then-champions Chelsea had bad years.
If just one of those teams had been competent on the field that year Leicester wouldn’t have won, but thankfully that wasn’t the case, and they pulled off a miracle.
How they struggled afterward
After winning the Premier League, Leicester found it tough. They were closer to getting relegated than winning the championship the next season, but they did have a distraction. Leicester were playing in the Champions League for the first time, and the added pressures of continental competition proved difficult.
Leicester did pretty well in the Champions League that year, but their Premier League results suffered as a consequence. They fired their league-winning manager in Claudio Ranieri and have gone through yet more managers since him. It has been a struggle for the team in blue to get anywhere close to what they once achieved.
Being picked apart
One major problem for teams trying to ‘do a Leicester’ is that they really don’t get the chance. Any team doing well in the Premier League loses their best players before they can build a team worthy of challenging. Teams like Southampton have had some of the best players in the league, but lose them to bigger teams.
The year after Leicester won the league they lost N’Golo Kante, and the season after that they sold Riyad Mahrez. Smaller teams are unable to build themselves up and become a championship contender because the title favorites come along and take their best players. Many of the standout performers in the Leicester team were unknowns before the 2015-16 season, and that meant no one tried to poach their best players.
There is hope
Thanks to new broadcasting deals there is more money in the Premier League than ever before. That means all teams are making at least $100 million each year they stay in the league, which means they can afford to keep their players. Why would they sell a player for $40 million, when losing them could cost them more than $100 million in lost revenue through relegation?
That means players at the traditionally smaller clubs are no longer as likely to be stolen by bigger teams unless those clubs pay serious cash. Teams are now able to stay together for longer and try to build something special. In the 2018-2019 Premier League season, teams like Watford, Everton, and Wolves who are proving they can impact the league.
In another few seasons if those ‘fringe’ teams stay together and keep investing the broadcasting money they could be challengers.
Thanks to the large amounts of money teams in the Premier League are earning we could see fewer transfers of players between the clubs. That could lead to teams looking to find advantages over their opponents in other ways. One possibility is that the teams look to develop their own stars on a more regular basis.
Teams like Chelsea, Manchester City, and Arsenal have established youth systems, but over the years not many players have come from them. When players are available to buy purpose-built for their needs, then why would teams take the gamble on developing players? Now players are less affordable, teams could return to coaching and developing players to become superstars.
It worked for Manchester United in the past, and that’s how they asserted their dominance over English teams when the Premier League was created in the ‘90s. If a team is to win the league from nowhere again, it could come down to good old fashioned coaching, rather than who spends the most money.
It looks as though Leicester’s Premier League win was a one-off, but teams should never give up hope. Teams with greater resources have an advantage, but with the playing field being leveled thanks to broadcasting deals, competition might be back on the menu in the future.