Roy Keane is clearly not a fan of Leicester City prioritising the Champions League this season and like so many of his opinions his views were laced with cyanide earlier this week.
“They have to remember what got them to the Champions League, their bread and butter by doing well week in week out in the Premiership. I’ve been really disappointed with this group of players so I’m cutting them no slack”.
That same evening the Foxes beat FC Copenhagen to secure a five point lead in Group G after just three games meaning they only require a minimum of two draws to proceed to the knock-out stages. The result also guaranteed a Europa League spot in the latter rounds should they unexpectedly implode from here on in.
It is not the first time that the former very good player who now scowls for money has been wrong, but on this occasion the reasons behind his ignorance are worth exploring. It is not because he is merely mistaken. It is not because his take on a subject differs from the majority. It is because the motivations that lie behind Caludio Ranieri’s decision to rest his key personnel ahead of Champions League games – and arguably sacrifice league points for a better chance at European joy – goes so against Keane’s core beliefs that he cannot compute what is happening before his – and everyone else’s – eyes.
What Leicester are doing is a continuation of their swashbuckling approach that took them to the most unlikeliest of title wins in the history of the game. They’re not hedging their bets but going all-in on the miracle.
That’s why they rested players in their domestic cup competitions last term while all the experts wrote off their chances of finishing top four never mind achieving immortality. And that’s why just last week they left record signing Islam Slimani and Riyad Mahrez on the bench for a testing trip to Stamford Bridge.
It would be a stretch to suggest that Ranieri and his men believe they can go all the way to the Millenium Stadium next June and lift the jug-eared trophy but that is entirely missing the point. The point is the journey and equipping yourself best for the adventures en route. The point is chasing the dream.
At the start of this season two paths lay ahead of Leicester. One was boring and straight and led to a top ten finish with all the condescending empty praise that came with it. The other headed into thicketed woods and resembled a divergence from a fairy tale. Down there, so they say, you will encounter Camp Nou. The bright lights will guide you.
That they chose the latter contrasts so greatly with the pragmatic, soulless adherence to the sensible that has nullified this glorious game it makes you want to stand up and whoop your fist in the air.
That Roy Keane fails to see the romance in this is wholly unsurprising.
Ranieri said post-Chelsea defeat: “My players made the world crazy with what happened last season. All the world was behind us”. And we were. We invested not only in the incredible events but in the ethos behind it. Leicester haven’t sold out on that or us. They have gone for it. They have realised this probably won’t ever happen to them or their supporters ever again and they’ve gone for it. I for one celebrate that.
The third paragraph was written matter-of-factly: that Leicester City are topping Group G and are now clear favourites to progress to the last 16. It has only been five short months since Wes Morgan held aloft the Premier League crown just seven years after they languished in the third tier of English football yet already the achievement has been dulled to fact. We shouldn’t forget however – and nor should Roy – that this is not a normal situation where the usual rules apply. This is chapter two of a fairy tale.