London (AFP) – The Premier League season’s defining quirk was that with a vast tide of television money set to flood England’s top flight, Leicester City’s triumph showed that wealth isn’t everything.
While Manchester City and Manchester United’s squads cost a combined estimated total of 800 million pounds ($1.16 billion, 1 billion euros), Leicester’s title-winning squad barely exceeded the 50 million mark.
In the context of the 5.14 billion pounds television deal due to kick in next season, their fairytale 5,000-1 success suggested that it is no longer about how much money you spend, but how you spend it.
“I’ve grown up always believing the big clubs, with the most money, win,” said Jamie Redknapp, the Liverpool midfielder turned TV pundit.
“Even Blackburn, when they won the title (in 1995), spent a lot of money and had the best players. This is like no other.”
While the feats of Jamie Vardy (1 million pounds), Riyad Mahrez (400,000 pounds) and N’Golo Kante (5.6 million pounds) demonstrated a new way of spending, Leicester’s football revealed a different way of winning.
In an age when many teams continue to worship at the altar of ‘tiki-taka’, Claudio Ranieri’s well-drilled, hard-running side averaged 44.8 percent of possession — the third-lowest in the league — and had a pass completion rate of 70.5 percent — the league’s second-lowest.
With Tottenham Hotspur, another high-intensity team, challenging for the title under the inspirational Mauricio Pochettino, Football Association chairman Greg Dyke was moved to exclaim: “The old order has broken.”
– Man Utd stagnate –
The Professional Footballers’ Association Team of the Year told its own story, with Leicester and Tottenham contributing four players each.
Excepting Harry Kane, the division’s 25-goal top scorer, who came through Tottenham’s youth system, all were signed for fees dwarfed by the 49 million pounds that City spent on Raheem Sterling.
West Ham United’s Dimitri Payet, another Team of the Year inclusion, was a relative snip at 10.7 million pounds.
The French playmaker inspired Slaven Bilic’s side to seventh place, with Ronald Koeman’s Southampton, fellow canny spenders, provisionally fifth ahead of Manchester United’s postponed final game against Bournemouth, which fell victim to a bomb scare.
The big clubs met with failure of varying stripes.
Despite having invested some 250 million pounds in new players, Louis van Gaal oversaw a season of grim stagnation at United, who are effectively guaranteed to miss out on a Champions League place for the second time in three years.
Frustrated at United’s feeble, sideways football — the antithesis of Leicester’s approach — fans have grown increasingly vocal in their criticisms of the defiant Dutchman, for whom victory over Crystal Palace in next weekend’s FA Cup final may not be enough to keep him in a job.
Jose Mourinho has been hovering in anticipation of the Old Trafford axe falling ever since his dismissal by Chelsea in December.
Worn down by Mourinho, the defending champions collapsed completely, but Guus Hiddink steadied the ship and with Italy coach Antonio Conte arriving after Euro 2016, a new future is taking shape.
– ‘Wake-up call’ –
There is immense anticipation, meanwhile, at City, where Pep Guardiola will replace Manuel Pellegrini following a season of damaging inconsistency that nonetheless yielded the League Cup and a first Champions League semi-final appearance.
Liverpool have already been revitalised by a new manager and despite an eighth-place finish, the club’s engrossing run to the Europa League final has hinted at the thrills that may lie ahead under Jurgen Klopp.
At Arsenal, Arsene Wenger soldiers on towards the 20th anniversary of his appointment.
He has, customarily, delivered another season of Champions League football — the 19th in succession — but with Arsenal having spectacularly failed to exploit their rivals’ struggles, fan dissent towards the Frenchman has been louder than ever.
Emboldened by their TV gains, the heavyweights can be expected to flex their muscles in the close-season transfer window and former Leicester manager Martin O’Neill believes that they will all come back stronger.
“Maybe it’s a wake-up call,” he said. “I think the big teams might feel it was one year they slipped up in and they might become very strong again. Money talks in this business.”
The division will lose two of its grandest clubs as Newcastle United and Aston Villa sink into the Championship alongside Norwich City, to be replaced by Burnley, Middlesbrough and the play-off winners.
The TV deal means that Burnley and Boro could not have timed promotion better, but as Leicester’s game-changing success demonstrates, it is what you do with it that counts.
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