Leicester City are the team to beat this season, it seems.
Both Manchester City and Arsenal drew at the weekend, which is really great news for the title race. Not only does it mean that neither side stole a march over the other, it also means that Manchester United and even Spurs didn’t let the others too far out of sight.
Manchester United won on the Saturday, which closed the gap, but so did Leicester. Now they’re only a point behind City and Arsenal.
But let’s be honest, they won’t actually win the title. That’s not on their radar. Like West Ham last season, their goal is simply not to get carried away with the success, carry on until the slump comes – and it will – and then try to ride it out. If they can do that, they’ll be in with a shout of Europe.
They won’t be in the Champions League next season, nor will they win the League this season. But they are showing the rest how it’s done.
When you punch above your weight as Leicester are doing, you do it by riding a wave of confidence. David had to be confident in himself to beat Goliath. You don’t just walk up to Mike Tyson and slap him in the face unless you’re an (over)confident guy.
They’re almost like Tim Sherwood last season, but what they don’t want to do is turn into Tim Sherwood this season.
Last season, Tactics Tim was in buoyant mood, he’d landed himself a great job in the Premier League, he kept his side up on a wave of confidence, and then he brought them to an FA Cup final where they were ruthlessly whipped by a Arsenal.
But this season Tim got overconfident. When he talked he sounded like he should have been on The Apprentice rather than in a post-match interview.
All of his answers were like he was auditioning for a job, he was overconfident, cock-sure that he was the best man for the job. ‘100% certain’ that Villa would stay up – perhaps that’s because he knew that the board wouldn’t let him get within an inch of taking them down.
In the end, when you talk like you’re Donald Trump – ‘Let me be President, you know why? Because i’ll be the best President ever, I’ll be so good at it, just you watch’ – you have to live up to the hype. When you talk the talk, you have to walk the walk. Or else you’ll find yourself doing a different type of walking… like our friend Tim.
But Leicester should have their feet firmly on the ground. They’re not a Tim Sherwood team after all, they’re a Claudio Ranieri team. Their manager is such a humble man, a nearly-man in many ways. Sacked at Chelsea after coming second, sacked at Monaco for coming second, Ranieri’s dismissals have made him humble and philosophical, it seems. He was appointed at Leicester, but simply continued with the good things he saw there.
Ranieri is the opposite of Tim. He’s relying on a novel idea to try to transmit confidence to his players. Rather than telling them that he’s the best manager there is and trying to make them believe that – like trying to make them believe in the Tooth Fairy – he’s relying on actual coaching to make his players better.
And it’s working. He’s not only making his players believe it, he’s making the world believe it. Jamie Vardy was linked with Real Madrid, Riyad Mahrez with Barcelona and Manchester United.
These players are on hot form, and they’re clearly very good. But surely they’re not at that level, or at least not based on 12 games. But that’s what real confidence can do. The manufactured stuff is so obviously fake, but when it’s real it’s a powerful tool.
History is full of stories of underdogs slaying the big beasts, but it’s also full of the horrific ruthlessness of the slaying of the weak. Leicester need to show the humility of their manager, but inject some real confidence. Not the over-confident, braggadocious arrogance of a Tim Sherwood or a Donald Trump – that’ll get you nowhere – but humble confidence of a Biblical hero. If they do that they really could slay Goliath.
But you need to know the beast you can beat. Aiming to beat City and Arsenal to the Premier League title might be a step too far, a folly of Sherwood proportions. But knowing that they’re capable of a Europa League spot with some hard work isn’t. If their manager can keep them on track, they could really slay a big beast this season.