By J Hutcherson (Mar 15, 2016) US Soccer Players – Let’s run through a few things.
- Leicester City’s ownership is a duty free retail conglomerate in Thailand reportedly worth $1.9 billion.
- Their chairman is the CEO of that company, with a personal worth of reportedly $2.9 billion.
- Leicester itself is the 11th biggest urban area in England. Though by urban population it would be the 114th largest in the US, tucked in between Pensacola, Florida and Victorville California, the 11th largest urban area in the US is Detroit with 3.7m people.
- Leicester City doesn’t have another Premier League club dividing the local support.
- Leicester City has been in the Premier League for a total of ten seasons since it started in 1993.
- Their manager has previously coached Chelsea, Juventus, Roma, and Inter Milan.
- Their leading scorer was not developed by Leicester City. They set a new transfer record for a non-league player when they signed him from a Conference club.
- Over the summer and January transfer windows, the club spent over $37m on players.
You can pick and choose what you’d like from this list to fit your version of Leicester City as Premier League disrupter. The better to avoid the idea that what Leicester City really represents is Premier League business as usual. Certainly, the existing Premier League powers would disagree, but for them any upstart club is a problem. It doesn’t matter if that club is only following a familiar template.
Wealthy foreign ownership? A manager with an international pedigree? Star players that the club didn’t develop? Enough Premier League experience to know the difference between contending and surviving? A new stadium by English standards with plans to post its current capacity of just over 32k to 42k? Check to all of those.
Maybe it’s worth looking at what Leicester City isn’t. They’re not a global brand, shifting licensed apparel all over the soccer obsessed world. They’re not spending in the upper bracket for Premier League clubs on individual players, though their total transfer spend this season is certainly considerable. They’re certainly not a team anybody considered a threat to the old order in the Premier League well into the 2015-16 season.
What Leicester City became this season is a catchall for any and all criticisms of the Premier League and how it supports its super clubs. For a lot of people, Leicester City represents an alternative Premier League where any of its members can put in the work to succeed. That glosses over Leicester City’s particular set of circumstances, but in a way that almost takes them for granted. Of course a competitive Premier League club is going to need the kind of investment not normally found locally. They’ll have to spend out of necessity, something that’s not exactly an issue with so much TV rights money flowing through the Premier League to its clubs. They’ll also need a bit of luck, like a former Conference player turning into a Premier League star.
This is how it’s supposed to be, right? If not exactly parity, a version of the Premier League that isn’t decided among a handful of clubs each and every season. Minus considerable investment and a willingness to operate clubs at a loss, the Premier League title could still be switching between two clubs. That Manchester United and occasionally Arsenal’s grip on the trophy is no longer strong is a good thing for a competitive league. If the status quo stays in place for too long, the rest of the league might begin to wonder if it’s worth the risk in trying to compete.
Leicester City is showing that it is. That risk requires following a recognizable template, but you have to bring in the right manager, spend on the right players, and get fortunate if not exactly lucky with injuries, cards, flukes, and everything else that can derail a season.
Though it’s far from the working class ideal of English club soccer, what Leicester City represents right now is a sporting chance. It’s one that isn’t limited only to the elite, opening up a league that by design and circumstance wasn’t fair to all of its members. If Leicester City can do it, so can 19 other clubs. That carries with it pressure as well as opportunity, revamping a league without a breakaway or a new name. The next question is whether the established clubs are willing to play that way.
J Hutcherson started covering soccer in 1999 and has worked as the general manager of the US National Soccer Team Players Association since 2002. Contact him firstname.lastname@example.org.
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