What was the biggest upset in sports ever? Villanova upsetting heavily favored Georgetown in college basketball? Buster Douglas beating fearsome Mike Tyson? Team USA upsetting the Russians in Olympic hockey? Or, underdog Leicester wins Premiere League?
Many folks are making the case that Leicester’s championship win in the Premiere League is the greatest upset of all time. It wasn’t a one day affair. It was season long. The odds were great. And, yet, Leicester won in convincing fashion.
Leicester Takes the Premiere League in Style
When the underdog Leicester City Foxes clinched the English Premier League title this year, it was nothing less than one of the craziest sports stories in a very long time. It was one of the greatest sporting stories come true when Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea finished their game in a 2-2 tie. The football club won their dream title without even being present on the field there, and the result triggered celebrations from the provincial English city to places as far away as Japan.
The Tottenham vs. Chelsea Game
When Harry Kane and Son Heung-min of Tottenham scored their goals, it looked like the title race would go into the week. But Chelsea’s Gary Cahill and Eden Hazard made sure that Tottenham didn’t have an easy win anywhere around the corner. Hazard curled in a magnificent equalizer in the 83rd minute. As the decisive moment approached, the TV pictures moved from the Tottenham-Chelsea play to the Leicester players celebrating their victory. And in Leicester, the city began celebrating its biggest ever part with crowds of fans forming around the stadium.
While Claudio Ranieri celebrated his first major league title as manager, the English Premier League champs captivated fans from all across the world. Thailand gets a special mention in this list because it is home to the owners of the club, King Power.
Why Leicester’s Win is Extraordinary?
Teams of Leicester’s financial position and size typically don’t win the English Premier League. If you look at Leicester’s performance last year, they were almost on the verge of falling back to the second tier league. The way they have turned things around this year, it is nothing less than a miracle.
What makes this win so special is that it has become almost a rule that only the big teams win the title. The modern form of the Premier League began in 1992-93. Manchester United were the first title champion and have won it a total of 13 times. The other winning clubs are Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City, and Blackburn. Blackburn can be seen as an exception to the general rule that the title is kept for clubs that have all the cash and glamour. If you take Blackburn, which is the closest club to Leicester, they currently plan in the second tier league.
The differences between the top clubs and the others has increased significantly in the last decade. There is no salary cap, there is limited revenue sharing, and being able to buy players from any club by paying big money has been the winning formula for the big clubs.
It is interesting that since 2004-05, only a single team outside the top 2 (in terms of payroll) has been able to win the league. And it was none else than Manchester United, which was 3rd in 2010-11. Everton was the last team with a relatively low payroll to finish 4th (in 2004-05).
Leicester City’s Payroll
Leicester’s payroll is tiny compared to that of the giants. English soccer doesn’t have any salary cap to ensure that there is a level of competition between all the clubs. It is unlike in other sports that teams go on a talent-buying spree to increase their chances of winning the championship. Leicester’s total payroll stood at around £48 million pounds in 2015-16. It was £110 million for Tottenham, £152 million for Liverpool, £192 million for Arsenal, £193 million for Manchester City, £203 million for Manchester United and £215 million for Chelsea.
It is expected that Leicester will win around $91 million in prize money this year. Even after winning the title, they may not be the highest prize-winners in the EPL. For example, Arsenal is expected to win over $98 million this season. Manchester United is expected to make $95 million and Tottenham around the same amount. Still, the small-club will be taking away a much larger prize than what they made the last season for just managing to avoid relegation.
This was not what a club like Leicester was supposed to win (even in the dreams). They were in the relegation zone in 2014-15 for 23 continuous weeks before they won 7 out of their final 9 games to get out of relegation. Their points tally stood at just 19 after playing the first 29 matches in the last season. But this season they climbed on top of the league with 60 points. In simple terms, you can imagine how big (and something of a record) an achievement this is if you consider that no team outside the top 4 has ever won the EPL title.
When it comes to odds, if you were to bet even a small amount on Leicester this year, you would have walked away with your annual salary in your pocket. The odds on the club winning the English Premier League were a staggering 5,000-1. Even if you had bet $20 on the club, it would have been worth a $100,000 on its winning Monday. But spirited Leicester fans who put their money on their club winning the EPL really cost the bookies big-time.
Most oddsmakers agree that the club winning the EPL title was likely the biggest underdog story in sports, and it is moments like this that makes sports really what it should be. What Leicester has achieved is to win perhaps the richest and most competitive professional sports league in the world.
Is Leicester Heading to Champions League?
Leicester has spent the full season overcoming different types of challenges. With the EPL title under their belt, they seem to be well poised to make some record when they enter the European Champions League. Now the small club will find itself playing with the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and Juventus. The other teams in their lot can include Atlético, Dortmund, Benfica, Paris, Dynamo Kyiv and Sporting.
Leicester’s Premier League title win of 2016 is an inspiring underdog story. One can only imagine what it would be like if they repeated the feat against Europe’s best.