On May 2nd, 2016, at Stamford Bridge Stadium in London, Chelsea and the Tottenham Hotspurs drew 2-2. Chelsea had been down 2-0, and Eden Hazard of Chelsea leveled it in the 83rd minute. Why is this scoreline so significant? First off, Eden Hazard, the 2014-2015 English Premier League MVP, had been in a dryspell, not scoring a goal since May 2015. He had scored his first EPL goal of the season on April 25th, and this goal was his second of the year, and second of last of the season.
But more important was what the result of the Chelsea–Tottenham game meant; it crowned Leicester City as English Premier League champions for the first time in the club’s 132 year history.
At the beginning of the EPL season, the world had expectations about who would be champions. The usual suspects — Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, Manchester City — were going to be the top four, and the only toss-up was which of those four was going to win. Leicester City had 5000 to 1 odds of winning.
But, the EPL title race was more than unconventional this year. The usual front-runners did not live up to their potential. Manchester United, with its most recent 3-2 loss to West Ham United on May 10th, have failed to qualify for the Champions League next year. Chelsea — 2014-2015 league champions — was, at one point early in the season, well below the bottom half of the table. As a result the less elite clubs startled the footballing world and took over some of the top spots. These clubs include Tottenham (the less-wealthy London club who placed 2nd), West Ham United (flaunting a new star by the name of Dimitri Payet), and most importantly, Leicester City.
Just two years ago, Leicester City finished the English soccer second division in first place. But have now they have claimed the EPL title. Out of this, stars have arisen, and fans loyal to other clubs are celebrating the Leicester Cty’s victory despite the fact that they may have defeated their own hometown clubs.
Leicester flaunts new-born soccer idols like Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez, N’Golo Kante, and Kasper Schmeichel.
New British international, Jamie Vardy is currently the league’s second leading goal scorer with 24 goals in just league play itself. Vardy’s inspirational story has made his success admirable. At the age of 16, Vardy was released from Premier League and Championship alternator Sheffield Wednesday to play at Stocksbridge Park Steels F.C., a team in the eighth division of the English football system. He slowly worked his way up and is now one of the greatest success stories of soccer.
Riyad Mahrez, a 25 year old midfielder from Algeria, is also amongst the top scorers this season. Most well-known for his crafty skills, Mahrez has teamed up with Vardy to make up one of the most deadly duos in the league. Recently, after their 4-0 thrashing of Swansea City in which he opened the score up with his left-footed shot in the 10th minute, Mahrez was flown in by a helicopter to receive his PFA Player of the Year Award.
N’Golo Kante is most known for his tenacious nature. The 25-year-old defensive midfielder’s ability to cover a large portion of the field has awarded him a spot on the EPL team of the year (with Vardy, Mahrez, and defender Wes Morgan). Similarly, he has been called up to the French national team, unlike historically world class stars like Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema, who was not selected for the 2016 European Cup.
If you’re a die-hard soccer fan, the last name Schmeichel might ring a bell. As son of legendary goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel, who ruled the goal for Manchester United in the 1970’s, Kasper has closely upheld his father’s reputation with his play.
On Saturday, May 7th, Leicester City celebrated on the field after yet another victory, a 3-0 rout at Everton FC.
But, while the individual stars dominate the stage, the more important story here is what Leicester City stands for. They’re a club made up of once average Joe’s, a coach (Claudio Ranieiri) who had been previously fired from Chelsea, and a miniscule pre-season budget of 60 million euros. Their heart and loyalty has won them a championship, and that heart and loyalty are going to question whether new clubs can rise to the top in the future.