Leicester City who?

I am very fond of Leicester. One of our first and longest-standing Grovelands’ customers are based there and I am often in those parts.

The football hierarchy in England has been turned on its head with Leicester City leading the Premier League by 3 points (at the time of writing).

It’s the most remarkable turnaround of a club who on February 5th 2015 were at the bottom of the Premier League and expected to get relegated.

Essentially the same team are now at the very pinnacle of English football and poised to win the league in May – if they can hold their nerve.

A lot has been written over the past few weeks and pundits have shifted ground from “they can’t do it”, to “they couldn’t do it”, to “they could do it”. If you had the foresight to put some money on Leicester City to win the Premier League at the beginning of the season, you would have got odds of 5000-1, in addition to the shortest odds for their new manager Claudio Ranieri to be the first Premier League manager to get sacked.

Analysts, pundits and writers are now trying to determine how Leicester have done it. What has given them the X-factor this season? It gives hope to so many smaller clubs outside the elite, including my beloved Brighton and Hove Albion. I have heard;

• Ranieri let’s them eat what ever they want, even pizza
• They are the thinnest team in the Premier League “look at Vardy, he looks like they’ve stuck him on a rack”
• Ranieri is winning the psychological mind-games with his fellow managers.

Some, none, or all of these reasons may be true, but I suspect it’s going to be more than diet, players’ gaits or Jedi mind tricks.

So what can we learn from what they’ve done, that might play out in the business world? Here are my top 3:

Don’t take yourself so seriously

Leicester have a wonderful self-depreciating humour. When asked recently, after they had just beaten the reigning champions comprehensively 3-1 at their own stadium, whether he finally accepted that Leicester must be favourites for the title, Ranieri said he was just happy to have hit his target of points to avoid relegation. Their hugely popular defender Robert Huth on joining Leicester from Stoke City said “Now the sexy football show rolls into Leicester”. Being humble is a great thing and keeps everything in perspective.

The team were given a short break and took off to Copenhagen with Jamie Vardy dressed as a Power Ranger, Danny Drinkwater as a Ninja Turtle and Robert Huth as Batman, not much ego there and I can’t think they were spending too much time with the media, paparazzi or adoring themselves in front of mirrors.

They are a team, a real team

They celebrate goals as a team. When their goalkeeper makes a save they all croud around him and backslap and ruffle his hair. It’s a team thing for them, sharing the moment of glory with the fans and with each other.

A recent recruit at the beginning of the season, Shinji Okazaki threw himself into the dressing-room banter by learning English, he wanted to be part of the team camaraderie. They are friends and team mates.

Ranieri told an Italian newspaper recently, “I tell my players often, find the fire from within, a chance like this will never come round again. Seek the fire and don’t be ashamed of it”. They are not, at all.

Keep things real simple

Their coach Ranieri has strived to keep things simple. With strategies, analysis and tactics becoming increasingly complex (like pressing and counter-attack, false 9s and zonal marking), he simplifies. Everyone knows their role, what’s expected and what they should do in certain situations. Players have jobs to protect their defenders, to break quickly when they have the ball and instinctively know what to do when a passage of oppositional play has broken down. Defend deep and hit on the break, simple really.

Unlike Tottenham and Liverpool who made wholesale changes and bought in 9 or 10 new players when they sold their stars (Bale and Suarez), Leicester added only 3 players at the beginning of the season.

I am a romantic at heart and I hope and pray that Leicester do win the Premier League in May. I think it will cause a lot of people to rip up their rulebooks and question their deeply held beliefs about buying success, and distance talk of the ‘Big 4’ clubs that permeate the game. If they do win, they will have done it in the purest way by playing a great game simply, exuding wonderful team spirit and above all really enjoying what they are doing. They are redefining football.

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