by Zaheer E. Clarke
Published Monday, May 9, 2016.
What a story it has been this season in the English Premier League (EPL)? Leicester, the cellar dwellers for most of last season, are champions of England, after a draw last week Monday between London rivals, second-place Tottenham and defending champions Chelsea. Since then, it is fair to assume that no Leicester City fans have slept since their team won the EPL title. Their unencumbered joy can be seen in the streets as they continue to celebrate their rise from certain death to EPL champions.
Two days ago, before Leicester’s clash with Everton, Andrea Bocelli, one of the world’s most renowned tenors, was led to the centre of the King Power Stadium by Leicester’s manager, Italian Claudio Ranieri. Andrea stood before the microphone, with the fans waving their flags and towels in the blue and white of Leicester. As Andrea began to bellow the popular opera aria, “Nessun Dorma” (None Shall Sleep), Ranieri motioned to the crowd to settle down.
As Andrea sang, he removed his hooded jacket to unveil his Leicester City football jersey beneath. The fans of Leicester, the new champions of England, joined Andrea in a joyous chorus. Such irony, I declared, 4600 miles away, as my body was overcome with emotions and covered in goose bumps.
As known in the opera world, “Nessun Dorma” is an elaborate song sung by an unknown prince who falls in love, at first sight, with a beautiful but cold princess and declares to all, his assured belief that he’ll win her. Of a certainty, the unknown boys of Leicester, many of who were once discarded from other renowned teams, are the princes of England this year and have captured the beautiful and cold princess of sterling silver, the EPL trophy.
Before the start of the season, on August 1, though finishing 14th out of 20 teams the previous season, Leicester were 5000-1 underdogs to win the English Premier League title, with only the three promoted sides from the lower league, The Championship, having longer odds. To be honest, for most of the 2014-15 season, including up to April 4th last year, Leicester was firmly at the bottom of the Premier League table with certain relegation in sight. With seven wins from their final nine games, after going eight games prior without a win, Leicester escaped the relegation noose and a return to The Championship.
Earlier that season, on September 21, 2014, Leicester City Football Club owner and chairman, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha invited monks from his homeland, Thailand, to bless his team in their first year back to the Premier League, after they won The Championship and were promoted. The monks in orange-clad monastic robes walked through the King Power Stadium and laid hands on then Leicester coach Nigel Pearson and the players before their clash with 20-time Premier League champions, Manchester United. Leicester came from 3-1 down in that match to beat Manchester United 5-3. It was the first time in 853 Premier League matches that United had ceded a two-goal lead and lost. Pearson declared to his boss then that he wouldn’t mind if the monks could come every week.
Leicester then went winless in their next 13 games before winning their last game of 2014, on December 28 against Hull City. Halfway through the season, Leicester were at the bottom of the 20-team table, three points adrift of 19th placed Burnley. At the time, the blessings of the monks seemed like an unlucky curse.
Many so-called experts predicted Leicester’s demise towards the end of the 2014-15 season. Others, less learned, also predicted an inevitable stumble under pressure, after the foxes first led the table ahead of the rich and favourable teams of England, earlier this season. Can foxes fly? They most certainly can. The fans and foxes of Leicester have waited exactly 111 English football league seasons spanning over 132 years for this day to come. Their team showed what teamwork and belief can achieve over financial splurge.
After Leicester’s first 11 games of this season, all without a clean sheet, Ranieri jokingly lamented that it seemed he wouldn’t have to make good on his promise to buy his players pizzas when they got their first clean sheet. In their twelfth game of the season, against Crystal Palace, they got their first clean sheet. Ranieri took the team to a restaurant and had them, in a true team building moment, make their own pizzas.
At the time, Ranieri gave insight into the culture he was creating for the team and the ingredients needed for Leicester to be successful this season. “It’s the team spirit and they enjoy training. They know they can work hard and enjoy. A little bit of luck is important. Luck is the salt, the fans are the tomato — with no tomato there is no pizza.” He went on saying, “For us it is important for us to build a strong foundation. For this reason, I want more clean sheets.” Since then, they gave Ranieri 14 more clean sheets and his first league title as a manager.
In 1958 an Italian couple, Alessandro and Edi were expecting a boy that they planned to name Andrea. During the pregnancy, Edi developed appendicitis and the doctors, fearing a multitude of complications for her unborn fetus, encouraged her to have an abortion. Edi refused. Andrea was born with congenital glaucoma, suffered from poor vision as a child, and later lost his vision permanently after an accident during a football match at age 12. On Saturday, Alessandro’s and Edi’s son, the 57-year-old opera maestro, Andrea Bocelli returned to the football field and sung joyously for Ranieri and all of Leicester.
Andrea’s life in his mother’s womb, the careers of many of Leicester’s players, and Ranieri’s own 30-year managerial career have all risen from certain death to eventual champions.
None shall sleep tonight. Nessun Dorma! Leicester City are Champions!
Until next time…
Zaheer E. Clarke is a freelance sportswriter and a Manchester United fan who was last seen sporting the blue and white of Leicester City Football Club.