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Even the most hopelessly optimistic and deluded Leicester City fan must be pinching themselves right now.
When the Foxes triumphed in an emphatic 5-3 victory over the Manchester United last season, few would have predicted that a year on they would be battling it out for the top spot in the Premier League.
Without meaning to disparage what has been a superb start to the season, it’s pretty safe to assume Leicester are unlikely to be in the mix for their first ever league title come May.
Nevertheless, such an impressive start means goal-shy United would be foolish to overestimate Claudio Ranieri’s men.
What makes Leicester’s rise all the more remarkable is the comparatively small amount of money spent on assembling their squad.
The financial muscle needed to splash out £108.10 million – the amount spend by Saturday’s opponents United – remains the stuff of dreams for Leicester, with the financial gulf perhaps best demonstrated by the regular front men of both clubs.
In the red corner there’s Anthony Martial at a value of £37 million, while in the blue corner there’s Jamie Vardy, a previously unfancied non-league talent snapped up for around £1 million from Fleetwood Town.
And yet it’s the latter who is attracting all the plaudits, equalling former Manchester United legend Ruud van Nistelrooy’s Premier League record of scoring in 10 consecutive matches with another strike against Newcastle United last weekend.
Vardy, while providing a ruthless spearhead for his side, is arguably the embodiment of what can happen when a team spends its money wisely.
You only have to look at how easily Newcastle, who were the league’s second-biggest spenders in the summer, were put to the sword at St James’ Park to see that throwing around sums of money doesn’t always equal success.
Return of the tinkerman
While Vardy will rightfully attract most of the praise, the contribution of Claudio Ranieri cannot be overlooked.
Pundits and fans alike were queuing round the block to put their money on Leicester being relegated when Ranieri, fresh from what can only be described as a catastrophic failure as Greece boss, was named as the successor to the fiery Nigel Pearson in the summer.
And yet the Italian has showed little sign of struggle so far. From pumping up his players with the sound of local rockers Kasabian, to continuing to back the spine of the side that won Leicester promotion and secured survival, Ranieri has wasted little time in buying into the club’s philosophy.
It comes in stark contrast to the disjointed relationship with Chelsea and Roman Abramovich, who clearly didn’t share the Italian’s vision for the club, despite the nurturing of title-winning core in John Terry, William Gallas, Wayne Bridge, Claude Makélélé and Frank Lampard.
Working with unfancied sides
Ranieri’s critics will argue that having taken the helm at Chelsea, Inter, Juventus, Roma and Monaco – all clubs boasting plenty of resources and talent – and not delivered a major trophy at any of them will always be a blot on his CV.
But as Sky’s Valentina Fass recently explained, Ranieri does have an unquestionable knack of improving unfancied sides, free of the egos, arrogance and other pieces of baggage that may come with managing a top side.
“His real talent is taking, maybe you could call them underdogs, and stimulating them to do better,” she told Sky Sports News HQ.
“He is very good at training top talents but he is even better at training young players and showing them how to believe in themselves. I know he recently said he has never known a club that is working as hard and listening to him and believing in him as much as Leicester.”
The start of something special?
He may have already written off his side’s title chances, but for now it seems as though Ranieri and Leicester are an ideal fit for each other. If they continue to believe in each other, and keep hold of their top stars, it could be the start of something special.
Written by Tom Coleman
Follow Tom on Twitter @tomEcoleman
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