As March Madness tips off we in the United States have been busy filling out our brackets in search of the next cinderella team that may make a run to the Final Four. Of course, over in the Barclays Premier League we’ve been treated to a whole season of a cinderella team as Leicester City has climbed to the top of the table and hasn’t shown any signs of relinquishing that post.
Leicester are easily the smallest, and most improbable, club to ever be the title favorite in March. They are now being viewed as a positive for football. A beacon of hope for every team out there. If Leicester City can do it, anyone else can. All of that is true, but are they a cinderella? Well that’s not as clear.
To start, we need to define what exactly is a cinderella team? Is it simply a title contender that no one saw coming? That can’t be it because then Tottenham would be considered a cinderella as well. Is it a small team that came out of nowhere to compete with the big boys? If it was as simple as that then yes Leicester City would be a cinderella.
But it’s not as simple as that. What defines a small club? A club that has a small stadium? Or is it a club that doesn’t have the same financial power that the traditionally big clubs have?
This is where we run into problems with calling Leicester City a cinderella team. All season long the narrative has been “tiny Leicester are doing the impossible,” but the truth is Leicester aren’t tiny. Far from it actually.
According to The Deloitte Football Money League Leicester City are the 24th richest club in Europe. Twenty Fourth! Only 12 non-English European clubs make more money then Leicester City, all of which are either Champions League mainstays or the biggest clubs in their country (Inter, AC Milan, Galatasaray).
It’s no accident that Leicester City are doing what they’re doing. In fact they’re doing it because of their newfound financial might. Last summer Leicester City flexed their financial muscles to bring in new players to add to their depth. They went out and signed guys like Gokham Inler and Shinji Okazaki from Napoli and FSV Mainz respectively. If you would have said that out loud last May, it wouldn’t have made sense. Napoli finished fifth in Italy last year, Leicester finished 14th, a move like that doesn’t make sense. But it did make sense because 14th place Leicester was able to pay Inler more then fifth place Napoli was. It’s that simple.
What’s ironic about the Inler and Okazaki transfers is that they were brought in to play crucial roles for Leicester this season but instead have found themselves mostly on the bench. That’s not because of poor play, it’s because the midfield tandem of Danny Drinkwater and N’Golo Kante, and striker Jamie Vardy emerged and became undroppable players.
You may argue that that last paragraph does make Leicester a cinderella as they’re not doing this on the backs of new signings but rather players they’ve already had in Vardy and Riyad Mahrez. While that part may be true there is something to say for the fact that it’s March and Leicester still have their star players.
We’ve seen this happen in the Premier League before. An upstart team starts strong and does very well in the first half of the season. But then January comes and teams like Chelsea, Liverpool, or Manchester City offer them tremendous amounts of money to poach their star players. For the small team it’s a gamble; keep the player, hope there are no injuries or that your form doesn’t drop and maybe finish in a European spot, or take the payday which can help you for years to come. Almost always the club takes the money.
That didn’t happen to Leicester though. In fact they weren’t even tempted to sell them as they made it clear before January started they wouldn’t be selling either player. They were able to do that because they don’t need the payday. They’re already making more then enough money (plus have the new TV contract kicking in next year) that even if they would have collapsed in the second half and fallen out of the Champions League in the second half, they would still be brining in more then enough money.
Sports fans love a cinderella story, and it’s for that reason that we’ve just decided that Leicester City are one, even though they make so much money they don’t even have to think of selling their players. As much as you may not want to hear it, they’re not a cinderella, they’re just a club with very little history that may win the Barclays Premier League.