“It was like all the other teams let them win.”
I heard Spurs fans make this suggestion of Leicester as their own team’s title challenge petered out. As conspiracy theories go, the other Premier League clubs letting Leicester City win the league is about as far-fetched as fake moon landings and Piltdown man.
However, I’d like to make a case for why some Spurs fans would rather come up with an excuse than face the reality of why their team didn’t win and possibly make them feel better about being cast as the villain in what shouldn’t have been a two-horse race between footballing underdogs.
There is no denying that titles are not won in August, but they are almost certainly lost and Spurs fans need to look at the 3 points from a possible 12 at the start of the season as being far more important in the grand scheme of things than the woeful capitulation from the moment Chelsea got back into the game at WHL, precipitating a collapse and some of the most unfortunate scenes on a football pitch.
Leicester’s August was not title winning, but it was effectively guaranteeing them survival and while Ranieri kept banging on about 40 points, by November he must have thought the way he had the team playing that a mid-table finish was almost guaranteed. Yet, the inconsistencies of the big clubs meant Leicester never dropped out of the reckoning, instead it fuelled the team – obviously driven by confidence – and I believe the beginning of the key factor began to nestle into the heads of the other Premier League players for the other 19 teams – including Spurs – if we don’t win it, we don’t mind Leicester winning it.
I know, if you ran this theory past Mark Lawrenson or Danny Murphy, Alan Shearer or Dion Dublin they would laugh in your face and tell you that footballers aren’t that complex and they only play to win. Except, by late January the only two teams that looked like they had the desire to win were Leicester and Spurs – both went on fabulous unbeaten runs and with Chelsea long dead in the water, Man Utd flattering to deceive and Man City and Arsenal just not showing the right amount of consistency, the impossible started to become a reality; there was a good chance that one of the big four wouldn’t win the league.
If you look at the last six games of the Premier League season 2015/16 – at the point where pundits no longer believed anyone would catch Leicester – you would have been excused had you woken up in an alternative reality where the Foxes were the dominant team and there was a fading hope of someone else resting control from them. The amount of insipid performances against them; the seeming failure of coaches and squads coming to terms with what was essentially the same tactic week in week out; had it not been for those perennial ignorers of scripts West Ham, the East Midlands would have been celebrating long before Spurs implosion against the wind-up experts Chelsea.
Aggrieved fans will point out how West Brom produced arguably their best performance of the season to put a dent in Spurs’s title challenge, or how Chelsea, devoid of passion, found bags of it to deny Spurs. The closer the Londoners got to being a threat to Leicester, the harder their opponents seemed to try.
The simple truth is Mauricio Pochettino used less players in the closing 12 weeks of the season than 18 other Premier League sides; when it came down to the nitty-gritty, the manager did a Harry Redknapp and failed to trust much more than his preferred starting XI. I can see it even now – Poch sitting at home thinking, “If I play Ryan Mason or Tom Carroll or Nacer Chadli how am I going to live with myself if we screw up and lose the league by one point; I will be forever labelled as the man who lost the league because he played someone else instead of the knackered and under-performing Christian Eriksen...” Obviously Dele Alli and Mousa Dembele didn’t help matters and neither did the arguable lack of investment in something during the previous January when we needed something – even a short term loanee – the stir it up at the club and refocus the players.
But it’s much easier to say that 18 other Premier League sides gifted Leicester the title because it makes them feel better...
Fast forward less than six months and the top 7 of the Premier League looks more like how people expect the top of the league to look: the two Manchester clubs, three London clubs and, hello, the two Liverpool teams again. The seven largest clubs in the country occupy the top 7 spots and there’s the battle for the next eight months – three of them are going to miss out on prizes.