Leicester City isn’t simply a short-term phenomena that will disappear next season from the upper reaches of English soccer. When the Thai consortium led by Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha bought the club in 2010, the new ownership outlined a long-term plan to return the club to the Premier League and to eventually challenge for a top four spot. Unlike some knee-jerk statements by new owners of football clubs in England during the same period, the Leicester ownership always had a long-term vision and a plan for where they wanted to be. They also had the patience to see through the project and the pragmatism to make adjustments when things didn’t completely go to plan.
While the plan had some bumps on the road and eventually the owners had to retire the club’s mounting debt and bring its cost structure in line with Financial Fair Play (FFP) while waiting an additional year to get promoted to the Premier League, the ownership’s planning has been outstanding.
Looking ahead to the imminent move to the Premier League in January 2014, the club signed Algerian International Riyad Mahrez, a player that was on the radar of first division clubs in Spain and Italy. Two years later, Mahrez is arguably the best attacking player in the richest league in world soccer.
Mahrez was identified by Leicester’s scouting system, which the club owners had invested heavily in following failure to win promotion to the Premier League with an expensively built squad that violated FFP in the 2012-13 season. Faith was kept with manager Nigel Pearson but the process of identifying players was made more robust and efficient.
The summer the club was promoted to Premier League, they lured Esteban Cambiasso — the most decorated player in the rich history of Argentine soccer in terms of winning trophies — to the club. Following a late run to maintain Premier League status, the owners attracted Claudio Ranieri to Leicester in the summer of 2015.
Ranieri’s appointment was widely derided in the British press but he was a manager that had built Valencia and Chelsea into powerhouses even if he was not given credit for doing so. He also was unlucky in his timing to manage Roma and Juventus, and his recent failure with Greece probably had little to do with this ability to manage a club in England. His most recent club stint at Monaco didn’t end well but perhaps had one Radamel Falcao not been injured it would have turned out differently.
For an ambitious club wanting a manager who has led top teams in European soccer, the availability of Ranieri logically excited the Leicester brass. When securing the Italian’s services, the owners guaranteed they would back him even if relegated if he promised not to bail on the club. Once Ranieri agreed, funds were provided to enhance the squad but signings were not random in any way shape or form.
Two players that arrived this summer, Shinji Okazaki from Mainz in the Bundesliga and N’Golo Kanté from Caen in Ligue Un came to the club thanks to the scouting process the Foxes had put in place. One player, Gökhan Inler came based on reputation to replace the departed Cambiasso. The former two players have been major contributors this season, with Kanté considered by some to be the best signing in Europe this summer. Inler, on the other hand, has played sparingly and hasn’t contributed much to the squad’s climb to the top of the Premier League.
Now with the Foxes sitting top of the table, ten points clear of 5th placed Manchester United, the club’s management has now focused on deepening the squad in preparation for the likely participating in European competition next season. Demarai Gray was brought in to the club for £3.75m from Birmingham City. Gray, at 19, is one of the best young English wingers and already has well over 70 competitive matches under his belt. Plus, he made a very impressive debut in the FA Cup against Spurs.
Daniel Amartey was brought in from FC Copenhagen for £5m. The central defender is 21 years old but has already been capped six times by Ghana. Like Gray, he is an investment for the future as the Foxes expect to be playing European soccer next season and will need additional depth and young players to make it work.
The Foxes are also reportedly very close to securing a deal for 23-year-old striker Ahmed Musa from CSKA Moscow.
Leicester’s rise to the top of English soccer has been fortuitous and improbable. But it has not been all about luck. Careful planning, attainable goals and the building of club infrastructure to meet those goals has been critical. Patience has also been important as the owners, unlike many other foreign investors in the English game, have kept their promises and not reduced spending after a few seasons when things did not go completely to plan.
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