Football - FA Premier League - Leicester City FC v Liverpool FC

TWO years ago I decided to start writing a book. It was to be a work of fiction and would centre around a lowly football club that would defy the odds to win the league title. They would be a team of misfits brought together by an inspirational manager to overcome the money and the power of the giants of the game to steal the hearts of the nation.

Then I thought, “Nah, that would be too far-fetched. I’ll write about zombie caterpillars or something.”

I wanted to write the book initially as an act of defiance. All I ever heard from people was how you couldn’t write good football fiction because the game is too unpredictable and exciting enough in reality. I disagreed and thought there was absolutely a formula for writing a story that could still capture the imagination — you just had to go with something that was incredibly ludicrous, yet strangely plausible if you opened your mind a bit, as with zombie caterpillars.

It has often irked me down the years when you hear commentators say, “You couldn’t write a story like this!” Have you seen some of the stories that have been written throughout history? Shakespeare? Dickens? Tolkien? Rowling? They’re a tad more impressive than Wigan winning the FA Cup (as good as that was).

You could quite easily have written the Leicester story. I very nearly did. But there is very little point when it happens for real. To paraphrase Jason Statham in Snatch, to actually see Leicester City win the Premier League title… is quite a fucking thing.

As I’m sure many of you will have, I found it slightly vomit-inducing to be cheering on Chelsea last night — albeit Spurs made it easier by turning into a gang of thugs determined to prove that Mark Clattenburg had left his red card in his other shorts — but it was in the name of Leicester City defying the 5,000-1 odds and winning the Premier League title. It is such a heart-warming story for so many reasons.

Then I took to Twitter and saw a load of good Reds fuming about it.

Football - FA Premier League - Liverpool FC v Leicester City FC

We would all have much rather seen ourselves at the top of the table and taking advantage of numerous clubs having dreadful seasons, of course, but this was surely a better outcome than Tottenham winning it, or Arsenal, or Manchester City?

As far as I can tell, these were the main reasons for said fume:

  • Leicester City have won the title before Liverpool
  • They only needed 77 points to do it
  • Next season everyone else will be stronger
  • Jamie Vardy looks like he should be handing out flyers for free shots in Magaluf rather than lifting a Premier League trophy.

Here are my ripostes:

  • Football was not invented by Sky in 1992, so no they haven’t
  • More a sign of the strength lower down the league than the weakness at the top. My bet is it’ll be a similar total next season
  • Will they? (I’ll address that shortly)
  • Yes he does to be fair, but then so does Alberto Moreno (Unbelievable, Jeff!)

However, the one argument that I can appreciate might trouble people, and is perhaps the most pertinent of all, is that Leicester and Claudio Ranieri winning the Premier League trophy essentially makes a mockery out of all of Liverpool’s previous excuses for not being able to win a title since 1990.

The outrageously talented writer of this parish, Ian Salmon, has also done a piece you will have read by now that touches on the scenario that it could have been us, and makes good arguments of why other teams who should have won it, didn’t.

There is another way of looking at it though.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Boxing Day, Saturday, December 26, 2015: Liverpool's scoreboard records the 1-0 victory over Leicester City during the Premier League match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Leicester have blown the door wide open for anyone to challenge for, and win, the title. They have built this team on good scouting, a solid team ethic and a cool and calm manager. Not billions of pounds and a bad bell like Jose Mourinho in charge. They have turned on its head everything we thought was needed to lift the league title.

It can prove to be a catalyst for teams like Liverpool, as I believe it was for Spurs.

Let’s not forget that Spurs were no-one’s favourites to win the league either, but they were the only ones breathing down Leicester’s necks by the end, and it seemed to me to be as much about them looking at Leicester and saying, “Well if they can do it…” than anything else.

There have been valid reasons for Liverpool being unable to challenge in the past, such as competing with much stronger versions of the big guns, losing out on titles to teams getting 90 points+, or with City in 13/14 when they won their last five on the bounce, but there have also been seasons where Liverpool have faded away when you can see right in front of your eyes it’s been because they’ve looked at other teams’ spending and said, “How do you compete with that?”

Leicester have now not only dispelled that excuse, but held it up by its ears and dropkicked it into the sea. They saw it as any other team only being 11 players plus subs and that they, as another 11 other players plus subs, can beat anyone at football over 90 minutes.

Of course history will tell you that this is far from the norm, and it is likely that Leicester’s heroics are a complete anomaly and will never be allowed to happen again, but of course Liverpool aren’t starting from anywhere near as far back as Leicester did.

Many are calling this the greatest shock in the history of sport. There have been other one-off events, tournament wins, cup wins, boxing matches etc, but in terms of an underdog maintaining such an unlikely high level for a whole season, there are few if any stories as incredible as this (granted Ian, Forest aside).

However, if you break it down, the formula for Leicester’s title win looks a bit simpler. They have:

  • A solid dependable keeper who communicates well with his defence
  • Two defensively sound if unspectacular full backs
  • Two organised centre backs who know their limitations and head everything away
  • Two centre mids who sit and protect the back four, one who tackles and intercepts everything, the other who spreads passes from deep (Mascherano and Alonso-lite)
  • Pace, creativity and end product on both wings
  • Pace, gnarliness and end product up front
  • Subs who will run through a brick wall for their manager
  • A manager who has ultimate faith in his players
  • Pretty much no injuries to key players

Football - FA Premier League - Liverpool FC v Leicester City FC

With Jürgen Klopp in charge, would it be so unlikely for Liverpool to achieve similar? The biggest question mark there would be keeping injuries to the bare minimum. With a new fitness coach coming in, if that can be addressed then there’s no telling the impact it could have.

Then of course there’s recruitment. It’s been bordering on embarrassing the last few years, and it is definitely something that needs improving on. Again, Leicester have shown that it doesn’t always need to be big names and big money, or you could be harsh and say Liverpool’s speciality, small names and big money.

People point to Leicester’s form at the tail-end of last season as an indicator of what was to come this season, which is valid. However, if you look at Liverpool’s form in games where Klopp has had close to his first choice XI, it’s pretty impressive too, no? Many of the hiccups have come in games that fell between Europa League clashes when mass rotation was needed.

The bad results of the last week and a half have come without Can, Henderson, Origi and Sakho. Four players who would likely have been in Klopp’s XI for Thursday if available.

Do you really think Leicester could have kept up this form without Drinkwater, Kante, Huth and Vardy all at once?

Then there’s this talk about the big teams all definitely improving next season. I’m not so certain about that one.

Next season will see Pep Guardiola have to get used to the Premier League with a squad that at the moment largely consists of players who will struggle to execute his preferred system.

Antonio Conte will also have to get used to the Premier League and revive a Chelsea squad that has stumbled almost as consistently as Leicester have triumphed. That is an absolutely massive job, especially for someone who isn’t even starting in the role until late July.

Manchester United will either be continuing with Louis van Gaal or swapping for Jose Mourinho. Either way their squad isn’t anywhere near balanced enough to win a title anytime soon, and there’s a good chance they’ll finally lose their lifesaver David De Gea to Real Madrid.

Tottenham look strong now, but as we know all too well, narrowly missing out on a title you feel you should have won can have incredible effects on the psyche of a squad and a manager. There’s every chance they’ll start next season slowly, and could have to spend the summer fighting off suitors for their star players, especially Harry Kane.

Arsenal are Arsenal. They will finish fourth.

Football - FA Cup - 4th Round Replay - West Ham United FC v Liverpool FC

Leicester will still be strong I’m sure, but with all eyes on them and the extra commitments of a Champions League campaign I can’t see them going another whole season without experiencing significant injury issues, though of course they cannot be underestimated (again).

And neither can we.

We will have Klopp as our manager, who will have had 10 months more experience in England than Guardiola and Conte, and in all likelihood will either have a team full of piss and vinegar after winning the Europa League, or a squad with no European football at all, and so a greater opportunity to focus on each league fixture with a near full-strength team over 38 games.

We should also have a squad that is closer to the one that he wants, and not one that he inherited from another manager, who had entirely different ideas on how football should be played.

There is a lot of work to be done at Melwood for Klopp and his team over the summer, but this season has shown that if you work hard enough and hit the right notes, you can overcome those who have far greater reach and spend in the transfer market.

I say well done to Leicester, and I’m happy for their achievement. I’m happy to see fans who are genuinely surprised that they have a chance to feel what it is to win the league, rather than the self-entitled celebrations that ensue when one of the regulars wins it again.

I love it because I can see the passion and the genuine glee in the eyes of the Leicester fans and players, and because I am sure that with Jürgen Klopp in charge, Liverpool fans and players have every chance to experience the same thing before too long.

Up the odds-defying Foxes.

Up the ‘everything to look forward to’ Reds.

You couldn’t write it.

Bring on Thursday.