Can Leicester City’s Ranieri do a Clough and win the league?
Sam Barnard, Assistant Sports Editor | December 8, 2015
Leicester realistic title chances
These days in the Premier League, it is nearly impossible for a so-called lesser club to lead the title race after 15 games in the season, due to the whopping cash piled into the ‘top six’ or so teams.
However, Leicester City (6/5 with Coral for a top six finish) have done just that as, despite dropping down from the summit a couple times, they have still climbed back up and currently boast a two-point deficit over second-placed Arsenal.
The Foxes can thank new boss Claudio Ranieri, whose summer appointment after the sacking of Nigel Pearson was questioned by pundits and former club legends, as the ‘Tinkerman’ has lived up to his nickname, albeit in a more subtle and effective way.
Many had their doubts, that a side who only narrowly avoided relegation last season after being promoted from the Championship could stay in the league under a manager who recently dramatically flopped while in charge of national team Greece.
Can Ranieri emulate Clough?
But the ex-Chelsea boss has come in, clearly seen potential and made his subtle changes – though not too drastic – in similar vein to that of a certain Brian Clough when at Nottingham Forest in the mid-1970s.
Now, we are not saying that the Foxes will win the Champions League within four years, the same time-span it took Clough to lift his first European Cup after taking over the then second-tier outfit. But, like Clough, Ranieri is working wonders with an East Midlands club, and are 9/2 to qualify for Europe’s elite club competition.
He has brought in or moved around players to fit the jigsaw puzzle in his favoured 4-4-2 formation and on top of that is on his way to helping them to win the title just two seasons after promotion. Also in likeness to the late great, he has done so without spending vast amounts of money.
Ranieri’s positional shift to put the rapid Jamie Vardy up front, rather than on the wings, has proved to be perhaps his most inspired change, with the former non-league attacker already nearly trebling his total goal tally for last season – he’s currently on 14 after going on a record-breaking 11-match run.
Ranieri getting the best out of players
However, other players such as recent hat-trick hero against Swansea City Riyad Mahrez – third in the Premier League scoring charts this campaign, four behind leader Vardy – Danny Drinkwater and Marc Albrighton have thrived under the Italian.
Summer signings Christian Fuchs (free), Shinji Okazaki (£7.7m) and N’Golo Kante (£6.3m) have all more than shown their worth too. The latter in particular has been a revelation, though perhaps an unsung hero in the Foxes’ success so far.
Like Vardy and Mahrez, Kante was playing outside top-flight football only a couple seasons ago (with US Boulogne and then Caen in Ligue 2) and has been an absolute menace in midfield. Again Clough and assistant Peter Taylor were known for moulding his teams, particularly at Derby County, with unlikely heroes that fitted their plans.
Kante, an uncapped French-born 24-year-old of Malian decent, has by far the most interceptions of the Premier League this term, with 64, and showed against the Swans that his contribution and energy has been vital.
Sir Alex backs Foxes title hunt
Leicester’s remarkable run has predictably gained the attention of many, and one man who perhaps has the most respected opinions in the game, Sir Alex Ferguson, has even suggested that they can go onto lift the title. They are terrific 33/1 shouts to do so.
Speaking recently, the Manchester United icon said: “They could win the league with the way they are playing at the moment, and they have goals in their team.”
Ferguson suggested, though, that Leicester (4/1 to finish higher than Man Utd this season) will need to add to their limited squad and keep their stars if they are to have any chance of going all the way.
With Vardy’s remarkable goalscoring run now over, the east Midlands side, who’s best ever league finish is second in 1928/29, will be hoping that he doesn’t suffer burnout which could coincide with the club’s decline, much like West Ham United last season.
They need to remember that they only have a small total of 23 players registered to their first-team this term. Although Ranieri has even been able to leave out high-profile names Andrej Kramaric (a prolific scorer back in Croatia) and Swiss summer signing Gokhan Inler, so could call upon them or even cash in to bring in new talent.
Fergie offers words of wisdom
Sir Alex also gave the Foxes a word of warning ahead of their possible success, after his time with another former club: “When Aberdeen won the European Cup Winners’ Cup, it was the greatest moment for Aberdeen in their history and it was the worst moment too.
“Five players left within a year; Gordon Strachan went to Manchester United, Mark McGhee went to Hamburg. Leicester may have a situation where some players love being there and don’t want to move and they will have some who do want to move to Manchester United, or Liverpool or Real Madrid. It is natural, it is progress.”
So, can Leicester do the impossible? “For a small club historically like Leicester City, they have a challenge,” Fergie added. “How far can they go with this present squad? Can they last the whole season?”
Impossible has been achieved before
It may be unheard of for a ‘little team’ in the Premier League era to shock the odds, although Blackburn Rovers did so in 1994/95 after then-boss Kenny Dalglish was given a huge cash injection, but it has happened over the years in other top European leagues.
In the Bundesliga, it is difficult to imagine any team couple topple German giants Bayern Munich, but less fashionable outfits Werder Bremen (in 2003/04), Stuttgart (2006/07), Wolfsburg (2008/09) and Borussia Dortmund (2010/11 – the first of two in succession) managed it in recent years.
Meanwhile, in Spain, Rafael Benitez’s then-Valencia side claimed the 2001/02 and 2003/04 La Liga titles, with only Atletico Madrid since being able to stop either cash-rich Real Madrid and Barclelona.
And, finally, in France’s Ligue 1, Lille (2010/11) and Montpellier (2011/12) have been the most recent surprise champions.
Therefore, it is not unthinkable, although no doubt Ranieri will afford a wry smile if Leicester finish higher than the club he was sacked from Chelsea (odds-on at 4/5 to do so), who are way down in 14th after a woeful title defence.