Last week’s FA Cup final result was supposed to be a shock, the plucky underdogs proving that they can once again defeat Rich Uncle Pennybags and one of English football’s serial trophy hunters of the past decade. But it wasn’t quite like that. After all, Leicester City had been sat in the top four of the Premier League for 242 days – longer than Champions Manchester City, longer than ex-Champions Liverpool, longer than runner’s up Manchester United, and longer than Chelsea, their opponents who had spent the remainder of the season running away from mid-table memories after Frank Lampard’s departure. Yes, to some extent, these cunning little foxes had indeed managed to sneak into Chelsea’s back-garden at Wembley and steal something shiny. But perhaps we are too quick to dismiss them, shooing them away like an occasional pest. Perhaps they have a right to be there. It’s only natural.
The only thing it lacked was Brendan Rodgers blowtorching the trophy, making little Ajax-style lapels for the raucous six thousand fans who longed to be in attendance at Wembley.
There has been a lot of noise surrounding Leicester since their somewhat unthinkable Premier League coup d’etat in 2016. Could they ever do it again? Was this simply a one off? How will they build, or rebuild? Top four or top six? Truth of the matter is, they finished twelfth in the season that followed their greatest ever feat and a fair few had already written them off. Yet, here we are with Leicester lifting another trophy.
For the first hour or so, the game was a bit of damp squib. The commentators could do nothing but repeat the fact that Vardy is the only player to have taken part in every round of the competition as they watched Leicester ping the ball around fairly convincingly. Chelsea, on the other hand, started far too slowly, aimlessly crossing the ball to the ghost of Didier Drogba. It was clear that their minds were elsewhere with Tuchel and his men dreaming of ball recoveries in the final third on the biggest of European stages in a week’s time. It was the twenty-eight-yard wonder strike from Youri Tielemans that woke us all up. (I knew this would happen; I had seen it before having purchased him on the cheap from Anderlecht on my FIFA 17 career mode). What followed were two masterclass reactionary saves from Kasper Schmeichel, the type of stuff his dad has been teaching him since he was a goalie-gloved foetus. It certainly looked as if this was going to be his day. Only Ben Chilwell, late substitution and ex-Leicester man, threatened to be the pantomime villain. After prompting some Schmeichel theatrics, Chilwell gave VAR something to draw lines about as he bundled around the six-yard box, prompting Çaglar Söyüncü to try (in vain) to clear the ball past a fridge-sized Wes Morgan. The check eventually put an end to Morgan’s fever dream and Leicester seemed destined to make it to the final whistle. A well-deserved victory in my opinion.
I suppose Leicester had more to play for. They had never won an FA Cup and they must have felt the need to prove themselves after their extraordinary league success and a top five finish last season. More importantly though, this was a sentimental victory for the club; this was for their beloved “Mr Chairman” – Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, who tragically passed away after a helicopter crash outside the King Power Stadium in 2018. There was something quite endearing about seeing the players and backroom staff celebrating with Vichai’s son, the current Chairman. Additionally, in the wake of the €uropean $uper L£ague, the bond between their players, fans, staff, and board appeared wholesome and organic. There is an irony here that Leicester are owned by an opulent Thai consortium, without which their recent accomplishments would not have been possible. Still, there is something profoundly less “businessy”, less corporate, more communal and familial in how Leicester City Football Club is governed. With all this – the smiles, the tears, the champagne spraying – it looked fun. Another #VARdyParty. And I can’t help but think these celebrations looked far more genuine than if Chelsea had won it. The only thing it lacked was Brendan Rodgers blowtorching the trophy, making little Ajax-style lapels for the raucous six thousand fans who longed to be in attendance at Wembley… or any live football match for that matter.
You’d think lifting silverware would boost morale towards the tail end of the season when your club is chasing Champions League qualification and going to face the same opponent only four days later, but apparently not. Tuesday’s penultimate game of the domestic season saw Chelsea bounce back with a far more convincing 2-1 win over the FA Cup winners. This time, Tuchel’s men were well aware that they couldn’t just sleepwalk their way into the Champions League next season. They started much quicker with precise and purposeful attacks that dizzied a hungover Leicester side. This win was deservedly Chelsea’s. But, at the end of the day, Leicester (at this point in time) had what Abramovich’s club, with a summer spend in the excess of £200 million, had not – a trophy.
The cloud hanging over Leicester’s cup triumph darkened after a VAR-heavy final day in the Premier League, dampening what could have been an unambiguously fruitful season for the Foxes. An unlikely London partnership arose as Tottenham beat Leicester 4-2, offering a helping hand to Tuchel’s somnambulists who let their concentration and composure slip against a Villa side with nothing to play for. To the detriment of his cup heroics, Schmeichel went as far as to lend his actual hand by punching the ball into his own net on Tottenham’s behalf – something he certainly didn’t learn from Dad. Fifth place, no Champions League. And that was that.
Like the mythologised “Bielsa Burnout”, some have been quick to point to the “Rodgers Effect”™. Trying so hard and getting so far, but in the end, it doesn’t even matter – as Linkin Park once said. Again, I’m not so convinced. Leicester have had some truly inspiring results this season, beating all of the perceived “top six” at least once as well as winning a cup; this was also done with a fraction of the budget, fewer stars, and a smaller fan-base and stadium. Aside from topping the charts, let’s not forget that Leicester’s two respective fifth place finishes are the highest in the club’s history. All of this adds to the discussion as to whether or not we are right to lump the Foxes in with the big dogs.
It seems Leicester’s story is no longer a novella, a quick bestseller sat alongside the Costa Award winners in Waterstones. There is more to say about this club, not just recollections from that ludicrous Premier League shake-up. And there will be more to come. Yes, Vardy is getting older but with pubs anxious to sell more vodka Red Bulls than ever before and a Hollywood film on the horizon, he is far from finished. Then there is Fofana, Barnes, Maddison, and Justin. The future is bright. Transfer targets look promising too with rumours circulating around Lille’s title-winning Boubakary Soumaré who would be a welcome addition to Tielemans in the midfield. Leicester’s story is going to be a book with many chapters, their FA Cup success this weekend will be in there somewhere, and I look forward to reading the rest of the novel.