By Nurudeen Obalola:
LEICESTER CITY HAVE CHANGED THE GAME FOREVER
Arsene Wenger should come up with another excuse if Leicester City go on to win the 2015/2016 Premier League title.
The Arsenal manager has found a way to make the club’s fans believe that you can only win the Premier League title if you outspend every other team in the competition.
And since Arsenal, although they are not exactly paupers operating on a shoestring, have not been the biggest spenders in the league for some years, Wenger has conveniently blamed his lack of league success on the money. Or a lack of it.
Wenger got away with it because he has often been beaten to the league title by clubs who outspent Arsenal, even if the difference in expenditure is marginal.
Since Arsenal last won the title in 2004, Manchester United have won it five times, Chelsea have claimed it four times, and Manchester City have won it twice.
All those clubs regularly spent more money than Arsenal, so Wenger was in a comfort zone; he had sympathy because these other clubs were “buying” the league as he often insinuated.
But ‘little’Leicester are now the frontrunners and are so far ahead that it would take a monumental collapse for Claudio Ranieri not to claim his first top-flight league title.
Leicester are on the brink of something groundbreaking, something game-changing, propably something earth-shattering (pardon the hyperbole).
A Leicester title will change many things that have pretty much been seen as standard in recent times.
For one, the prediction game has taken a big hit.
Not one single pundit predicted that Leicester would win the Premier League at the beginning of this current season. As a matter of fact, many expected the club to be relegated.
Following the Wenger model, most pundits went for the big spenders, mostly Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea and Manuel Pellegrini’s Manchester City. Nobody gave Senor Ranieri a chance.
Ironically, both Mourinho and Pellegrini have been discarded by their rich clubs (admittedly Pellegrini will not leave until the end of the season), while Leicester would probably be ready to sell their stadium to keep Ranieri.
I’m sure when it’s time for next season’s predictions, pundits will be a bit more careful and will not just go for the big spenders to win the title.
Simply put, Leicester have shown that money isn’t always the name of the game.
According to football transfer website transfermarkt.com, Leicester’s total outlay for the 2015/2016 season was €55 million, with Shinji Okazaki from Mainz for €11m their most expensive signing. Okazaki’s fee would probably buy Mesut Ozil’s right foot, or Anthony Martial’s left.
Robert Huth arrived from Stoke for €4.2m, while left-back Christian Fuchs cost nothing from Schalke. The hard-running N’Golo Kante, who looks like he could play three full matches in one day if asked nicely, cost only €9m.
Their top scorer Jamie Vardy (€1.24m in 2012), Player of the Year contender Riyad Marhrez (€500,000 in 2014), inspirational captain Wes Morgan (€1.12m in 2012) and goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel (€1.68m in 2011) were all picked up for modest sums before this season.
Leicester did not have to break the bank to get to where they are. It has taken them clever scouting, a coach who has gone about his job with quiet efficiency and dignity, desire to succeed, togetherness, and players with a great deal of heart to take them to the top.
Leicester have shown all of us that the possibilities are endless if you apply yourself, work hard and work smart, and stop giving silly excuses.
What Ranieri is about to achieve is on the same scale as what Jose Mourinho achieved with Porto when he defied all the odds to win the Champions League with the slumbering Portuguese giants, their first European Cup/Champions League success since the Raber Madjer-inspired title of 1987.
Leicester winning the title could also be compared with Alex Ferguson’s Aberdeen breaking the Celtic/Rangers dominance of the Scottish top flight twice in the 1980s and winning the European Cup Winners Cup.
There are a few shock domestic league title wins but Leicester’s will be absolutely remarkable because of the role big money has played in the modern game.
The richest clubs usually win the league titles: Juventus in Italy, Bayern Munich in Germany, Barcelona and Real Madrid in Spain, PSG in France etc.
Leicester are not even the second richest, or third richest or even fifth richest club in England and they are about to win the title. Huge, huge deal.
Leicester have also taught us not to solely base projections for a new season on the previous season’s results.
They were bottom of the league in April 2015 and it looked hopeless for Leicester. But they, along with Ranieri, have risen from the dead and on the verge of one of the greatest turnarounds in sporting history. One year after, they are on top of the league, six points ahead of their nearest rivals.
Ranieri himself looked done and dusted after running the Greece national team aground, messing up their Euro 2016 campaign where he even lost at home to Faroe Islands!
But see where he and the club are at the moment. Never write a man, or a club, off.
The Foxes are about to change the game. Nobody is hunting them anymore; they are now doing the hunting.
Even in the Nigeria Professional Football League, the past few seasons have belonged to the big hitters as Kano Pillars and Enyimba have shared the title between them.
MFM FC or Abia Warriors are giving the big boys a good fight this season, and these relatively small clubs could be our own Leicester.
It is time for our own game changers to emerge. If Leicester could do it, why not MFM or Abia Warriors?
IN ENYIMBA WE MUST TRUST
All of Nigeria’s hopes in Africa in club football are with Enyimba.
After Warri Wolves, Akwa United and Nasarawa United crashed out of the continent at the early stages, it is up to the People’s Elephant to save the country’s face, especially as the Super Eagles will not be attending the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations, and the Home Eagles fumbled at the African Nations Championship in Rwanda.
But Enyimba are up against one of the toughest sides on the continent.
It is hard enough to play against wily North African clubs, it is doubly hard that it is Etoile du Sahel.
The Tuniasians have been part of the African elite for years and they are rarely not in the latter stages of either the CAF Champions League or the Confederation Cup.
This time, Etoile are in the way of Enyimba’s progress to the group phases of the CAF Champions League, qualification for which guarantees at least six televised African games for the Aba side.
The good thing is Enyimba have beaten Etoile du Sahel before, in the 2004 CAF Champions League final, and have not fared too badly against North African opposition, so the Nigerians will be confident they can do it again.
The not-so-good thing is the first leg is in Nigeria and anything other that at least a two-goal margin win could spell disaster.
The North Africans will do everything to frustrate Enyimba here and will hope to finish the job back in Tunisia.
So, for Enyimba to progress, the job must be done in Port Harcourt in the first leg.
Let’s hope the Elephant crush the Tunisians on Sunday.