When Wes Morgan proudly lifted the Premier League trophy above his head in May, the Leicester City story became a footballing fairy tale. It was a jolt to the big clubs; those who took their Champions League spot as a right looked on bewildered by the storm which raged through the Premier League during the 2015/16 season.
It was a scenario no-one envisaged at the start of the campaign. Certainly not the bookmakers who offered odds of 5,000/1 on Leicester City being crowned Premier League champions. This was a club who were expected to sack Claudio Ranieri, their affable Italian manager, by Christmas in the fight against relegation.
At best – with luck and a following wind – they might sit in mid-table. No-one inside or outside the club expected a European place, let alone ending the campaign as Premier League Champions.
It was the perfect storm.
Helped by a good injury record, Leicester were able to field a settled line-up for a huge swathe of the season. They rarely lost key personnel for any sustained period and capitalised on their good start. Ranieri shook off the ‘Tinkerman’ tag he acquired as Chelsea boss, reaping the benefits.
Chelsea themselves romped to the title in 2014/15 but imploded as Jose Mourinho lost the plot and the club, eventually, an unfair discrimination claim against Eva Carneiro. That row cast a heavy pall over their season as they limped home in tenth place.
Manchester City and Arsenal made the top four, with the latter closing the gap to just two points when they beat Leicester at the Emirates with Danny Welbeck’s last-minute winner. But they fell away and finished ten points adrift of the champions.
Quite rightly, their remarkable story was lauded as the end of the big clubs dominating English football.
With the new broadcasting deal, club revenues are rising stratospherically. And it isn’t just the rich who are getting richer; so are the relative paupers. The likes of Leicester, Everton and Stoke can afford to buy players who would previously have looked only at the big four in English football.
Not that Leicester were financial minnows anyway. With a billionaire owner, they were never going to be short of a bob or two. The Football League still has an ongoing investigation into alleged breaches of their Financial Fair Play regulations relating to the Foxes promotion-winning season in 2013/14.
But we’re starting to see the trickle-down effect of their success.
West Ham United’s chairman, David Sullivan, has publicly stated the Hammers are going to challenge for the title next season. Everton, previously unperturbed by mid-table finishes, removed Roberto Martinez as manager and appointed Ronald Koeman in his place. They expect to challenge for the Champions League places very quickly.
This is alongside fallen giants such as Manchester United and Liverpool, expected to spend heavily this summer to match their owners’ ambitions for title-winning sides.
It may be good for supporters, with more stars coming to these shores but for managers, already under pressure, job longevity is in danger of becoming a thing of the past.
Arsène Wenger is in his second decade in charge. His and Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign at Manchester United were already anomalies; with more money being spent on players and wages, they may be viewed with incredulity in the future.
Which presents a genuine problem for managers, as well as a vicious circle for the game itself. With new investment pouring into the English game from China and elsewhere, the pressure on delivering success grows on the men in charge.
A short-term view will emerge as new owners seek to make up lost ground on rivals by spending heavily in the transfer market. Managers won’t have the time to promote young players if they have to attain trophies or league placings to keep their jobs. There’s no doubt that clubs need to set targets but football, a sport which thrives on dreams, sits precariously on the cusp of losing touch with reality.
The Football Association has long sought an answer to the dearth of native talent. England’s tournament hopes are continually hampered by the slow progress of young players and their technical deficiencies when they reach the highest level. Additional pressure on club managers isn’t going to help the international team’s cause at all.
This, however, is football’s new reality. Whether it is for the best remains to be seen.