In their debut column for Eight by Eight, Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe of NBC Sports tackle the story of the season—and perhaps of the sport’s history.
Robbie and Robbie, today we’re having a conversation about Leicester City winning the Premier League. How did we get here?
ROBBIE MUSTOE: A perfect storm. It’s the only way to describe it. The team benefits from the synergy of average Premier League players that are well-organized and have remained fit all season. They have an inspired manager. And, most importantly, they have two stars in Vardy and Mahrez. They’ve gone from small-time goal scorers to incredible goal scorers.
ROBBIE EARLE: Players, really. They weren’t even big players last year. At the same time, the powerhouses of English football are in places they normally aren’t this season. The combination of these factors means that a club like Leicester can be at the top of the table. And everything that a team like Manchester City aren’t—and why City won’t win the league—is everything Leicester are.
To your last point: what makes them different?
EARLE: Work ethic, hunger. I’ve played in every league in English football. And I always used to remember when playing in the fourth division, thinking that when I get out of here, I’m not coming back. It stuck with me, especially in the Premier League. When you come from that kind of background, like so many of Leicester’s players, you’re not going to be the type of player who says, “well, not today.” You’re brought up to play as hard as you can. Some days you’re rubbish, but you give everything. Because you have to.
MUSTOE: My son said to me, “Dad, they’re trying harder than everybody else.” And I think it’s as simple as that. When you watch them play it’s almost like you can see them thinking: ‘This dream is going to continue. And we’re going to find a way through.’ It’s everything a fan wants to see in their team.
What impact will Leicester’s success—and the way they’ve made it—have on the Premier League?
EARLE: It’s an interesting turning point in the whole of football. Because other teams are going to be more ambitious. Now, ambitious might not mean you finish in the top four, but newly-promoted teams aren’t arriving in the league asking, “well, how do we survive?” The likes of Stoke, West Ham, and Southampton have shown that with good recruitment and good management you can stay in the Premier League—and in Leicester’s case, maybe win it.
MUSTOE: It’s funny how success stories influence the style of football. Years ago, there was a period when Wimbledon were successful with a direct approach and longer balls. So others did it too. Then we saw it with Barcelona’s Tiki-Taka. My point: It’s stunningly obvious how effective work ethic is, and it feels like football is changing into a game of incredible athleticism and technical ability.
Let’s say Leicester wins it. Are we talking about the greatest-ever achievement in football history?
MUSTOE: Absolutely. The most incredible, unexpected football story ever.
EARLE: I’m talking sporting, not just football. It’s up there with Buster Douglas knocking out Mike Tyson.
More incredible than Nottingham Forest in 1977–78?
MUSTOE: Yes. Because of finances. The richer have gotten richer over the past few years. There’s a big difference.
EARLE: Forest also had a genius manager. Brian Clough was the Mourinho of the day.
Say Leicester finish in the top four. What changes next season?
MUSTOE: I would worry that this perfect storm that we’re seeing could change. I’m not saying that they’re going to struggle. But I would not be at all surprised if Mahrez goes. And if new players come in, they can’t continue this same consistency. There has to be a drop off.
EARLE: But if you can retain what you’ve got and build—rather than losing your best—then you’ve got a chance. And it’s not like Ranieri doesn’t know what he’s doing in the Champions League. This whole thing is so hard to comprehend. Imagine, Cristiano Ronaldo at the King Power Stadium.
MUSTOE: Imagine saying this time next year: Norwich are going to win the League!
This article originally appeared in issue 08 of Eight by Eight, available for purchase in our online shop.