It is possible that Leicester City could win the Premier League this season.
As it stands today, Leicester are joint top with Arsenal. They are both on 44 points, but the Gunners have a superior goal difference. Incredible, isn’t it? Who would of thought that the King Power Stadium club would be level at the top as we head towards February?
A year ago, Leicester were looking like relegation certainties. They were bottom of the league, three points adrift of second from bottom Burnley and four points from safety. Up to 1st January 2015, they had won just three games all season and lost 12. Even by the beginning of March things looked gloomy for The Foxes, but by the middle of April, their situation seemed to improve under Nigel Pearson. By the end of the month, they were out of the relegation zone and a point ahead of third from bottom Sunderland. Four straight wins before a defeat to Chelsea started the rise that would eventually peak on the final day at 14th place in the Premier League and 41 points. They were six points clear of relegation and only seven points from being 10th. It was quite an amazing achievement, as most teams that are rooted at the bottom of the league around Christmas go on to be relegated. The fight within the side demonstrated the possibilities to come, but no one saw their performances this season on the radar. After all the good work Pearson had done in terms of promotion from the Championship and then the escape from relegation, he was dismissed the day before the summer transfer window opened. The club soon found the successor in Claudio Ranieri and he was appointed in July. Unquestionably, football writers and pundits alike, thought that this match up wasn’t likely to end in anything but a disaster.
Esteban Cambiasso was allowed to leave during the summer and as others drifted off, too. As well as this, questions were asked about the new boys. However, with Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy playing out of their skins this season – backed up by a tough and resilient back four and a creative midfield – Leicester, under Ranieri’s guidance have been a phenomenon. Much like Nottingham Forest in 1978.
For those that don’t know, Nottingham Forest were a second division club when Brian Clough walked into the City Ground in 1975 after leaving Leeds United. Forest were 13th and going nowhere, but they finished eighth that season under his management. Clough, a fans’ favourite for his outspoken views and quick wit, was ambitious and brought in Peter Taylor as his assistant for the next campaign. By the end of the 1976/77 season, Forest were promoted as the third team, just five points behind the champions, Wolves. That summer Clough was interviewed for the England managers job, but the role passed him by and some say he was the best manager that England never had. His views were not in line with the stuffy FA chiefs at the time and the job went to a rather more subservient Ron Greenwood. No doubt this stoked the fire within Clough to show everyone what they had missed, because in their first season back in the top flight, Forest took Liverpool’s crown immediately. Suddenly this side were a force to be reckoned with. A superb back line, marshalled by McGovern, the quality of Viv Anderson and the ability to break you in half of Kenny Burns, a quality goalkeeper in Peter Shilton, a midfield engine in Martin O’Neill, John Robertson and Archie Gemmill and a forward line led by Tony Woodcock, frightened the lives out of the big guns. In the 42 games that season, Forest finished top – seven points clear of Liverpool. They lost just three times all season and had a far superior goal difference. For the first time, Forest qualified for the European Cup and as history shows, they won that in their debut season before retaining it a year later. In 1978/79 season, Forest finished second behind Bob Paisley’s Liverpool, but Forest once again overshadowed the Reds due to that European Cup win and by buying Trevor Francis – Britain’s first million-pound footballer.
So then. If Leicester City win the Premier League and they could, is that a bigger achievement than Cloughie’s Forest?
We have to remember that times were different and it was a different game then. However, you have to take into account that Leicester were in their ascendancy before the end of last season under Pearson. Ranieri has carried that on. They were on a roll and they’ve kept that momentum going under a new manager. The club have spent just over £20m net in bringing new faces to Leicester and it is a great achievement for them to be joint top of the Premier League today.
Nottingham Forest spent £640,000 on four new players. Cloughie inherited the rest and do you know another thing? How times have changed – all of the squad were either English, Scottish or Irish. Not one foreign player. Teams these days would rather go abroad because the players are so much cheaper and in some cases more technically gifted, but in 1977/78, clubs bought within the UK.
Which is the greater achievement? I’m taking nothing away from Leicester, but for me it’s Forest. From going nowhere to going somewhere beyond the club and the fans wildest dreams. Priceless.