Leicester City’s remarkable Premier League triumph is starting to set in after the club, which won the first championship in its history last week, got their hands on the trophy at their King Power Stadium on Saturday. Already, though, attention is turning to next season and whether their success represents a fairytale anomaly or if they, or another underdog, can upset the pecking order once again.
The biggest test for Leicester, under the charge of their genial Italian coach Claudio Ranieri, will be to retain the team spirit that has played such a fundamental role in their triumph, while adjusting to the demands of the Champions League and their greater wealth and pulling power. Ranieri received overachieving seasons from the likes of Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez, Wes Morgan, Robert Huth, Marc Albrighton, and Danny Drinkwater, and somehow made all the pieces fit on squad fated for relegation before the season opener.
Speaking to International Business Times last week, the wife of Leicester’s Austrian left-back Christian Fuchs, Raluca Gold-Fuchs, who lives in New York City and previously worked for Goldman Sachs, revealed the extent of the bond between everyone at the East Midlands’ club.
“It’s been an amazing season,” she said. “The team spirit and the people that work for the team are all a great group of people with some really nice personalities. So they’re more like a family than a business, if I have to compare it.”
Ahead of Leicester lifting the Premier League trophy, Ranieri stressed, too, that their transfer policy wouldn’t be about signing the biggest star players, but getting those who can fit into the team ethos.
Famously given odds of 5,000-1 to win the title at the start of this season, the bookmakers are not making the same mistake for the next campaign. Still, rated at about 25-1 they are only seen as seventh favorites to retain their crown. What has made Leicester’s story this season so compelling is how rare it is. Neither they nor any other club is likely to replicate it for some time.
Yet the possibility exists that Leicester’s upsetting of the Premier League’s traditional big hitters could inspire both them and other clubs outside of the elite to do likewise next season. Here are some of the potential candidates to follow Leicester’s lead.
One of the few ways that Leicester City’s triumph could be topped next season would be if Bournemouth were to lift the title. Based in the tiny 11,000-capacity Dean Court on England’s south coast, Bournemouth are currently completing their first ever season in the top flight. If it were not for Ranieri’s heroics at Leicester, then a strong case could be made that Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe has pulled off the greatest managerial achievement in this season’s Premier League. Despite being heavily tipped to go straight back down to the Championship, the Cherries secured their Premier League status with several games to spare.
Retaining their commitment to an attractive, possession-based style, Bournemouth have proved they can mix it up with the Premier League’s elite, beating Chelsea and Manchester United in back-to-back matches last December. Given that for much of the season they have been without their two big signings from last summer and their lead striker, they may hope to go even better next season. Yet manager Eddie Howe is keen to avoid supporters getting carried away by Leicester’s achievement.
“I would urge real caution when people bring up the story of Leicester,” he told the Bournemouth Echo last week. “We are not Leicester.
“I think it has been incredible what Leicester have done and an amazing achievement. But I think it is very rare that it will happen in football and we need to remember our journey.”
While Leicester’s story was remarkable, it wasn’t quite the equivalent of a feat only ever managed by Tottenham, Ipswich Town and Nottingham Forest in winning the top division the very next season after being promoted.
Could Championship winners Burnley become the first team since Forest in 1978 to do just that?
The bookmakers certainly don’t think so, already placing their odds at 1,000-1. The Lancashire club do, though, have the experience of playing in the Premier League, having come up and then gone straight back down last season, and should be stronger for the experience this time around.
And, like Leicester, they also boast a squad of unheralded players, whose success has been in large part due to a unified spirit among the squad.
“It took a bit of time when I got here to get it how I wanted it and to get the environment and the culture that I think is appropriate for footballers to work and to grow and improve too here,” manager Sean Dyche said. “It’s the key core values which people talk of as being old fashioned now; pride, passion, will to work, dedication- they all go into the melting pot.”
Burnley have also been English league champions twice before, in 1921 and 1960, but to do so again would eclipse even Leicester City’s fairytale.
West Ham United
Nobody would suggest that West Ham landing the Premier League title would be quite on the same scale as Leicester. The London side after all are a far more established member of England’s top flight. However, it would be a remarkable feat nonetheless given they have never finished higher than third and have never cracked the top four in the Premier League era. Yet there is reason to think that they could crack that ceiling, if not next year, then in the foreseeable future.
Not only will they fall just short of reaching the Champions League this season, but Tuesday’s match with Manchester United will be the last match at Upton Park before West Ham move into the 60,000-capacity Olympic Stadium. The new stadium will vastly increase their revenue-earning potential, but that have been handed the keys to it on a 99-year agreement that has been deemed the “deal of the century.”
Indeed, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has described inheriting the stadium as like “winning the lottery.” Already boasting the talent of Dimitri Payet, big money could be spent this summer, with a bid of £25 million having already been made for a striker in France. It will surely be enough to tempt many to take up bookmakers on their odds of 80-1 on West Ham to win the title next season.