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What to Know About the Greatest Cinderella Story in Sports History

5 minute read
Updated: | Originally published: ;

English soccer club Leicester City’s victory in the world’s most-watched sporting league was sealed Monday night after the team’s closest rivals, Tottenham Hotspur, failed to win against Chelsea. It completed a fairy-tale season that may be the greatest ever underdog story.

Two years ago, Leicester City was so lousy, the Foxes failed merit a spot in the Premier League. A year ago, Leicester City needed a torrid winning streak at the end of the season to avoid being relegated back to the second division.

Leicester City’s run over outlandishly wealthy super clubs like Man U, Manchester City, Chelsea, and Arsenal is not unlike, say, the Philadelphia 76ers finishing the 2014-2015 season 18-64, and then winning the NBA title this year (Philly was 10-72) Or a top minor league team winning a World Series. Would never happen. Could never happen.

That’s why Leicester City may be the greatest Cinderella story, ever. Here are five things to know about the Foxes.

  • Longest longshot. Before the season William Hill, the British bookmaker, gave Leicester City 5,000 to 1 to win the Premier League title (William Hill US put the odds at 2,500 to 1). The 1969 “Miracle” New York Mets, who won the World Series, were a 100 to 1 shot that season. So according to the oddmakers, Leicester’s feat is 50 times more unlikely than what a team nicknamed “Miracle” pulled off. Other events bookmakers have declared more likely to occur than Leicester championship: Hugh Hefner admitting he’s a virgin (1,000 to 1), Simon Cowell becoming prime minister (500 to 1), Elvis Presley found alive (2,000 to 1). Other events on par with Leicester’s victory at 5,000 to 1: Loch Ness monster proven to exist, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West’s next child being named “Sinner.”
  • It’s Good To Be The King. In 1485, King Richard III died at the Battle of Bosworth Field, likely from an axe to his head. He was buried and long forgotten before University of Leicester archaeologists found his bones under a parking lot in 2012. The king was reburied in a proper March 2015 royal ceremony — actor Benedict Cumberbatch, Richard III’s third cousin 16 times removed, read a poem. After Richard III was laid to rest, Leicester City went on a roll, ending a two-month winless drought to take seven of its next 9 games, avoiding relegation. The excellence continued this season. All hail the king.
  • Turmoil, then Triumph. After avoiding relegation at the end of last season, a scandal hit the team last summer when a disturbing sex tape involving three players — including the son of manager Nigel Pearson — leaked online. The players made degrading and racist remarks to the women in the clip, which was filmed during a team’s goodwill tour of Thailand (Leicester City is owned by Thai billionaire Vichai Strivaddhanaprabha, CEO of duty free retailer King Power). All three players were released, and Pearson was also fired in the fallout. Former Chelsea coach Claudio Ranieri, recently fired as Greek national team coach after Greece suffered a humiliating loss to the Faroe Islands, got the Leicester gig. The hire did not generate overwhelming enthusiasm. SEVEN SACKINGS! screamed a headline in the Daily Mail, which detailed each of Ranieri’s coaching stops and subsequent dismissals. (Napoli, 1991-1993, Chelsea, 2000-20o4, Valencia, 2004-2005, Juventus, 2007-2009, Inter Milan, 2011-2012, Monaco, 2012-2014, Greece, 2014). “Claudio Ranieri,” tweeted former England player and current broadcaster Gary Lineker. “Really?”Ranieri then guided Leicester to a magical season. Really.
  • Nerd Alert. It’s been over 20 years since a team not named Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea, or Liverpool has won the Premier League. Leicester’s analytics effort deserves some credit. The team employs a data duo that produces reams of reports for the coaches: a piece posted on the website of OptaPro, a sports analytics firm, offers some rare insight into Leicester City’s “Moneyball” play. “We can pick out key points,” Leicester City performance analyst Peter Clark told OptaPro. “If a player is losing individual battles and aerial duels we can help provide the evidence for the manager. Or if the opposition’s chances are being created from similar situations, we can help bring that to the manager’s attention as well.” The piece also states that “a more recent addition to the post-match analysis surrounds team units. For example, Leicester’s central midfield pairing can review their performance directly against their opposition, allowing them to also break down key moments within the game, duels and where they performed well or not so well.” Leicester City even hosted an analytics conference earlier this year. All that wonkiness pays off.
  • Say It Right! Most important, for all you Americans who want to impress your pals — English or otherwise — with your newfound appreciation for this remarkable story, Leicester is not pronounced Lee-cester or Li-chester or Le-ice-ster or some other butchering. It’s simply Lester.
    Get it right now. Because after this weekend, Leicester City — Lester, Lester, Lester — may be the talk of world sports.
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    Write to Sean Gregory at sean.gregory@time.com