30th May 2016.
It may not have been the most cinematic version of events, but it did the trick. On Sunday, May 1st, Leicester City drew an away match with Manchester United, missing an opportunity to clinch the Premier League title. With just three games left in the season, the Foxes went into the Man Utd match with 76 points-seven points ahead of their only remaining challengers, Tottenham Hotspur. Other one-time contenders like Arsenal and Manchester City had fallen by the wayside, leaving only these two teams as potential champions. The draw against United meant that the Spurs could still catch Leicester City, so fans had to wait to see their team win the Premier League title for the first time.
As it turned out, those fans only had to wait a little more than 24 hours. On Monday, May 2nd, Tottenham Hotspur played their third-to-last 2015/16 match against Chelsea. It was an odd game for the Blues: they could either lose the game and remain the reigning Premier League champions for another week or two, or force a win or a draw and officially elevate Leicester City to championship status. Down 0-2 at halftime, it looked as if the Blues would opt for the former option; instead, they battled back in the second half to force a 2-2 draw. Just like that, Tottenham's title hopes went up in smoke.
Euphoria for Leicester City
While Harry Kane and the rest of his Hotspur squad went off to nurse their wounds of such a close shave with the Premier League title, Leicester City blasted into a euphoric bliss, taking all of England-and indeed, much of the world-with them.
In the 24 hours after the Tottenham - Chelsea draw gave Leicester City the 2015/16 Premier League title, many pundits, followers, and celebrities came out of the woodwork to offer the Foxes their congratulations. Some called Leicester's win one of the best narratives in Premier League history; the BBC was even less conservative, calling the underdog victory "one of the greatest sporting stories in history." You can almost see the dollar signs glowing for a Hollywood movie adaptation already.
While Leicester City's unlikely win probably did inspire a bit of hyperbole in the hours after it finally became a reality, the truth is that the narrative is nothing short of once-in-a-lifetime. First off, consider this: Leicester City had never won the Premier League before. Previously, their highest finish in the English top-flight was second place, all the way back in 1929. They're the first team to win the top-flight with zero prior titles since Nottingham Forest did it in 1978.
Those statistics would be impressive enough on their own, but it's also worth considering how Leicester City managed an unlikely win in an era when unlikely wins are virtually impossible. In every football league in Europe, there is a feeling that since the best teams only get richer with each passing season-and are therefore able to acquire the best players-they are exceedingly difficult to catch. In each of the past 20 Premier League seasons, just four teams-Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, or Manchester City-traded off the top spot. Leicester City are the first soccer club outside of those four to win the title since Blackburn Rovers won it in 1995. As a result, they are just the sixth club to win the title since the Football League First Division became the Premier League.
An Against-All-Odds Cinderella Story
If none of these facts and statistics sound impressive enough, consider Leicester City's true Cinderella story of ascension. The 2014/15 season was Leicester's first in the Premier League since 2004, when they'd finished 18th and been relegated. After that relegation, the Foxes faced 10 seasons of struggles, dropping to the bottom of the Championship, playing a season in England's third tier in 2008/09, and then gradually working their way back up the Championship title.
In 2013/14, Leicester City won the Championship and earned promotion into the Premier League. Their first season back in the top-flight wasn't easy, though, with the Foxes winning fewer matches (11) than they lost (19) and ending the campaign at 14th place. (Remarkably, the Foxes enjoyed a bit of a miracle last season too, spending the entire middle portion of the campaign in dead last, but turning things around and escaping the red zone in the spring.)
Because of their middling-to-poor performance in the 2014/15 Premier League, virtually no one would have bet on the football club rising to the very top of the table this year. In fact, Leicester City faced such long odds at a victory-5,000 to 1-that the thought of their win was the stuff of fantasy. (In a recent piece, ESPN noted a few other events with 5,000-1 betting odds, including Elvis being found alive, the Loch Ness monster existing, or Barack Obama becoming a cricket player for England once his U.S. Presidency comes to an end.)
Still, despite the long odds, despite a payroll that is virtually laughable compared to that of the Premier Leagues heavyweights, and despite the fact that Leicester City only returned to the top-flight last year after a long absence, the Foxes chipped away at their doubters until they were Premier League champions. Sure, they caught some lucky breaks along the way: Chelsea's collapse took the defending champions out of EPL contention early on, while the fight went out of Manchester City after it was confirmed that Pep Guardiola would replace Manuel Pellegrini next season. Leicester also dodged injury-the factor that was probably most responsible for Arsenal and Manchester United's lukewarm seasons.
However, the Foxes also earned their win. They were the most consistent team on the table in terms of wins, draws, and losses, and had one of the league's best players in Jamie Vardy. At the end of the day, Leicester City won the Premier League because they were the best team on the table.
The Next Steps
This season, Leicester City were lucky enough to make it to midnight without their carriage turning into a pumpkin. They were the rare Cinderella story that managed to stay golden until the very end. The question is, can the Foxes carry that momentum forth into the 2016/17 season? Or will Leicester, like Blackburn Rovers, be one-time Premier League winners amongst a crowd of frequent champions.
Certainly, the Foxes will face new challenges next season. For one thing, they'll be playing in the Champions League-their first European tournament since 2000/01. This season, Leicester City definitely benefited from a relatively clear schedule. They fell out of the FA Cup in January after a loss to Tottenham, giving them license to focus exclusively on the Premier League-even while their closest competitors were struggling to keep up with multiple tournaments. It will be interesting to see how the Foxes perform when they have to do their own bit of juggling.
For another thing, Leicester City will probably have to face revamped versions of some of England's best teams-the most daunting of which is a Manchester City spearheaded by Pep Guardiola. Guardiola is a soccer czar with a hugely impressive record for winning titles. Will the Foxes will be able to defend their title with Guardiola on the scene?
Another factor that Claudio Ranieri will have to contend with is the transfer market. A single Premier League win doesn't make Leicester City as wealthy as Manchester United or Chelsea, which means that they still might not be able to compete for some of the best players likely to be on the market this summer. Of course, that inequity has always been the case, but Ranieri will face more scrutiny for his transfer choices this year. Add the fact that Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez-Leicester City's top scorers-are 29 and 25, respectively, and Ranieri is going to need to start thinking about getting some young blood to make his club sustainable.
Still, beating 5,000-1 odds is the kind of experience that can transform a team, and the Foxes will certainly enter the 2016/17 season with momentum to spare. Right now, Leicester's victory still feels like the stuff of fairytales (especially if you're one of the fans who placed a bet on the club at the beginning of the season). Come August, when all of this feels a bit more real, we can all take another look at the Foxes and determine whether their win was a fluke or the birth of a new Premier League heavyweight.
What's Next for Leicester City?
30th May 2016.