We Have To Talk About Leicester City

Come on ye Spurs!’- Four words that feel so odd to type I’m wondering what I’ll be coming out with next; ‘Eastenders-made me laugh,’ ‘Elvis-he was good,’ maybe even ‘Enda-balls of steel.’ But no, for unlike the worlds of television drama, popular music or politics, only football has forced me to think the unthinkable, thanks to the emergence of a malign new force- Leicester City! And it’s a particular blight on all coverage of the sport that commentators and pundits are now contractually obliged to refer to ‘the fairytale’ of their possible premiership title, when it’s actually more of a black comedy. And I’m not writing this out of any longstanding hatred for folk at the Kingpower, or the Walkers or whatever it is now, of the sort I rightly feel towards Sunderland (hacks from back-of-throat and spits.) Because Leicester City, like Wolves, Notts County or Newcastle, have always been an irrelevency, not just losers, but losers that weren’t worth hating unlike, again, Sunderland (hacks from…etc.) And it’s not jealousy of a successful team reflecting on the inadequacies of those I root for, and have this season delivered a damp squib at Elland Road, a tragicomedy at Villa Park and a farce at Stamford Bridge, no, that’s what Liverpool FC are for, with their exhilerating play on the field, genuine class in the manager’s office, and scum in the replica jerseys on the Luas. So what is it?
To be precise, it’s not that I begrudge these bit-players their long awaited moment in the limelight, I just don’t like the way they’ve gotten there. Because I’m not averse to a bit of catenaccio, in moderation, but Sunday’s game, at home, was typical of a season where they’ve made the Inter of the ’60s look like the Holland of ’74, and like a Healey-Rae wedding, it’s not just ugly to look at, it smells distinctly iffy too. I said, back in October, that they’d fall away once the injuries hit, except…they never did! Now, call me a cynic, but that may happen (though never has) with a Barca or a Bayern, who believe the ball is the workhorse and the men merely artistic directors but Leicester- a team not just built on running but built from runners?! Granted, they have a couple of class players, namely Kante and Mahrez, but even Stoke and Palace have some class acts, and West Ham, as they showed, have a lot more, and they won’t be playing Champions League come the Autumn. And I don’t want to hear about Drinkwater’s 60-yard diagonals and Vardy’s sublime first-touch and dead-eyed finishing; all are admirable in their way but ultimately just result from constant repetition of an intially difficult action until it becomes muscle memory, like a Fianna Fail-er lying without laughing, or Michael Noonan using the loo. And even as I write I’m recalling a 10-year old self, reading back issues of Match Magazine describing the beloved Leeds United ‘shutting up shop’ on the Arsenal to land our first trophy in the 1968 League Cup Final, and how the criticism echoed mine today, but Leicester now lack the innate qualities Super Leeds perfected by the early ’70s, the gossamer that was added to the beesting as they floated above opponents, not just Southampton on the famous 7-0 day but Chelsea two years earlier, and both Manchester sides, plus Arsenal (in style) that same glorious ’72 season. And that at a time when ‘sport science’ meant a sponge, a halftime jaffacake and a bottle of vaporub, at a pinch, whereas the current league leaders, I fear, can never break free of a darker chemistry, more to do with Walter White than Walter Winterbottom.
For it’s how Vardy can constantly sprint beyond defenders, many years younger than he, in order for Drinkwater to hit, that’s what bothers me, that, and the absence of the strains and pulls mere mortals, not wearing a jersey with a smug fox face on it, are prey too. It just doesn’t make sense, and therefor it’s nonsense. And then there’s the rest, like their talent for ‘the dark arts’ as a commentator gushingly described the other day- (one may no longer ‘commentate’ on them, only gush) meaning time wasting, fouling and diving or, to use the old fashioned word, cheating. Everybody does it, I know, just not with such brazen abandon, and apparent impunity. They are to the arts of darkness what Monet was to those of the light. If it goes on like this, if they steal the title this way, where will it end? Will Chris Coleman and the two O’Neills use them as the template for an unfashionable title challenge later this summer, with centrehalfs training alongside the packs at The Arms Park, Ravenhill and Thomond respectively to become, like Huth and Fuchs, adept at keeping a grip of a forward? Or will attackers from both Irish and the Welsh teams warm up for France by studying tapes of Vardy and co. before heading out to practice, equipped with a springboard and landing mat? And if they did, and Wales, Norn Irn’ or The Republic kept shocking better teams until the trophy was in sight, a la Leicester, would that be a fairy tale?- no, it would be a nightmare. Come on ye Spurs!


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