Having beaten the odds to win their first English top division league title, Leicester City’s players and management are on cloud nine. With two matches to go in the season, Leicester will begin to plan for their future as next season’s title hopefuls and Champions League top seeds.
Leicester City’s achievement is one of the greatest surprises in football in recent years.
To put it into perspective, at the start of the 2015-16 season, British bookmaker William Hill provided odds of 5000:1 on bets of Leicester winning the Premier League — which means the experts said Leicester winning the league could only happen once in 5000 attempts.
The bookmakers now believe that they will have to re-evaluate the odds they provide on outsiders because the approximate 25 million pound payout resulting from Leicester winning the league has been the biggest loss for them over a single sporting event in the history of British betting.
But the odds being against them may have been exactly what helped Leicester win the league, considering most other teams wouldn’t have considered them title contenders when lining-up to face them for at least some part of this season’s campaign.
So what does that mean for Leicester going forward?
Element of surprise
Leicester have secured Champions League football for next season and will be competing on Europe’s biggest stage that will be drawn in pot 1 for the tournament’s group stages.
While they will do well to hold their own against the likes of Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Real Madrid and their ilk, the world has seen that Leicester are capable of bettering English giants such as Manchester City, Chelsea and holding their own against Manchester United and Liverpool.
The biggest challenge for Leicester next season will be to sustain their high-intensity style of play while having to deal with matches every three days; something they haven’t had to do this season.
Barcelona’s elimination from this season’s Champions League serves as a reminder of the intensity of playing with little rest as accomplished players such as Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar struggled to get into their rhythm after the South American 2018 World Cup qualifiers. Barcelona was knocked out of the Champions League and relinquished a nine-point lead in the La Liga standings.
Leicester’s players will feel the fatigue of multiple competitions over the course of the season, especially with the likes of Jamie Vardy and N’Golo Kante set to feature in next month’s Euro 2016.
Additionally, Europe’s top teams will be well aware of Leicester’s tactical set-up and the Foxes may find it hard to get past some of their illustrious continental opponents.
But Leicester will stand a good chance to do so if they manage to retain their players and manager.
The Ranieri show
While Claudio Ranieri’s current three-year deal with Leicester contains a release clause allowing him to buy out his contract in the summer of 2016 for 1 million pounds, the coach stated in December 2015 that he didn’t want to leave the club even if he was offered the role of head coach of the Italian national team following the departure of Antonio Conte after Euro 2016.
“I hope they give me a long contract, six or seven years, and I retire here,” Ranieri told Marca in an interview.
The Italian will receive a bonus of 5 million pounds for delivering the league title and is set for a contract renewal as reported by The Telegraph.
But if Ranieri is to replicate his success next season, he will need his core group of players to stay with the club.
Leicester’s success was achieved by a spine of players featuring prominently throughout the season. Kasper Schmeichel, Wes Morgan, Robert Huth, Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez, Daniel Drinkwater, Marc Albrighton and Kante were mainstays in the line-up, with each making over 30 Premier League appearances this season.
Rumours had started to surface as early as January over big teams being interested in signing Vardy, Mahrez and Kante. While Leicester were able to address the speculation around Vardy by renewing his contract to a new deal that will see him earn 80,000 pounds a week, Mahrez and Kante are still on 40,000 pounds a week with their current contracts.
But Leicester should be able to negotiate better deals with their players with the newfound revenue they will receive as English champions.
According to the Premier League’s official website, Leicester had earned 71.6 million pounds from broadcasting and other commercial rights for the 2014-15 season. These are based on central revenues received by the league that are distributed among the 20 teams every season based on three categories -- equal distribution among 20 teams, the team’s final position in the league table and the number of the team’s matches that are broadcast on television.
For the 2015-16 season, Leicester are projected to earn 90.9 million pounds based on the central revenues distributed by the league. They will further receive 30 million pounds for participation in the Champions League (9.3 million pounds earned just for attaining direct qualification to the group stages).
Additionally, experts predict Leicester can maximise their profits by increasing match day revenues from ticket and hospitality sales, renegotiating sponsorship deals and by cashing in on merchandise sales from their expanding global fan base.
Leicester’s existing shirt and stadium sponsors are King Power, a chain of duty-free stores belonging to club owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha. By the books, the deal brings Leicester no more than 16 million pounds a year in revenue although the figure is under investigation by the Football League in accordance with financial fair play rules and suspected to be only 5 million pounds.
Experts believe champions Leicester can command at least 20 million pounds a year in shirt sponsorship if they find a new sponsor.
Should Leicester manage their incoming finances efficiently, business consultants are of the opinion that they can earn a total between 150 and 250 million pounds next season.
Seemingly, Leicester should have the financial ability to challenge Europe’s elite.
Learning from history
In the Premier League era, there have been only two teams apart from the ‘top four’ of City, United, Chelsea and Arsenal to have lifted the trophy—they are Blackburn Rovers and Leicester City.
Leicester may look upon their future by reflecting on Blackburn’s downward curve after winning the league in the 1994-95 season.
Blackburn also beat the odds through an enormous team effort built around the success of two excellent attack-minded players. Just as Leicester had Vardy and Mahrez coached under the watchful eye of Ranieri, Blackburn had Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton managed by Kenny Dalglish.
Unfortunately, Blackburn’s success was short-lived and the season after their league triumph ended with a seventh-place finish and a disappointing Champions League elimination in the group stage.
Blackburn weren’t able to capitalise on their breakthrough season but another team had, in the past, managed the feat.
Nottingham Forest, through the excellent management of Brian Clough, took the Football League First Division by storm in 1977-78 to win the English top division for the first time in their history—the last team to do so until Leicester achieved the feat this season, which made them the 24th team to become champions of England.
Forest attained qualification to the European Cup through their league win and went on to achieve further success by winning Europe’s highest honour of the time in consecutive seasons in 1978-79 and 1979-80.
While there is a good possibility of Leicester sustaining themselves in the seasons to come, particularly with the increased financial support English clubs now get through revised broadcast revenues, some believe they will find it a challenge to replicate their achievements.
“This season will be a one-off. Next season just depends. They will struggle to keep one or two of their stars and it’ll be back to normal life,” said former Leicester City player Gary Lineker.